Persuasion and Bridgerton: ‘cool’ history kills the context

Progressive sensibilities deserve praise but what's lost in a context-free approach to the once fusty and boring period costume drama?

The stories we tell about the past can tell us a lot about what matters in the present. Nowhere is this clearer than the realm of historical fiction, where a battleground has emerged between those who want verisimilitude and those who prefer revisionism. Costume dramas may once have been the cosy province of dusty prudes, but recent streaming hits Persuasion and Bridgerton have divided viewers over liberties taken in an attempt to appeal to a younger – and very online – crowd.

Certainly, one of the most annoying things about being (comparatively) ancient online is having to witness new generations discover things you’re sure you’ve always known about. Whether it’s the wonders of Kate Bush or the moral complexity of Blade Runner, these excavations can inspire a petty urge to point out that, actually, we oldies were into them when they were cool and, frankly, if you weren’t there, you’ll never truly understand. (The Church singer Steve Kilbey — who is even older than I am — once said much the same to me about David Bowie.)

Unlock Padlock Icon

Unlock this content?

Access this content and more