The eight-episode first season of Netflix’s Bridgerton covers roughly the same time frame as The Duke and I, the first book in Julia Quinn’s romance series. However, the Shonda Rhimes–produced drama also borrows plotlines from the other seven books in the series—and takes quite a few liberties with its source material along the way. We’ve rounded up the most significant changes below. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.
Bridgerton imagines a version of London in 1813 apparently free of racism, with a diverse aristocracy not found in the books. Two major characters who are presumably white on the page are played by Black actors: Regé-Jean Page as Simon Basset (whose “icy blue” eyes Quinn repeatedly emphasizes) and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury. Bridgerton offers a canonical explanation for this casting, attributing the integration of the upper classes to the marriage of King George III and Queen Charlotte. There has been speculation that the historical Queen Charlotte may have had African ancestry; the series accepts it as fact, casting Black actress Golda Rosheuvel as the queen and crediting her with changing the racial makeup of the ton by granting titles and land to other people of color.
Bridgerton opens with the fourth Bridgerton daughter (and oldest girl) making her debut before the queen, who pronounces her “flawless.” As a result, she becomes what Lady Whistledown calls the “diamond of the season,” sought after by men and envied by women. Despite having many suitors, Daphne’s older brother Anthony drives them away by being overprotective, which leads Daphne to enter a fake relationship with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, to once again boost her standing.
In The Duke and I, Daphne is in her second year on the marriage market, and far from being the “diamond of the season,” she is having trouble finding a good match because most eligible men see her as more of a friend. She turns down four proposals because of age or incompatibility, including Nigel Berbrooke (who is more of a bumbler than an outright villain in the books, though Daphne punches him in both anyway). She’s certainly never involved with a prince, as she is on the show.
The Other Bridgertons
Anthony (who is much more reasonable about his sister’s prospects in the books than he is on screen) and Benedict each get love interests on Bridgerton who are loosely based on minor characters from the books. Siena Rosso is based on Maria Rosso, the opera singer who catches Anthony’s attention in Book 2, The Viscount Who Loved Me, though they never have an intense relationship as they do in the show. Madame Delacroix, the dressmaker who fakes a French accent, is an original character. Season 1 ends with Anthony and Siena splitting up, but it will be interesting to see how Benedict’s new relationship fares, considering he has a totally different love interest in Book 3, An Offer From a Gentleman.
The details of Simon’s childhood are true to the book: He didn’t speak until he was 4 years old, and his father was ashamed of his stutter. But Bridgerton gives Lady Danbury a larger role in his upbringing by making her a close friend of his mother’s who oversees his education. In the book, that part is played by Nurse Hopkins.
Simon also has a penchant for boxing on Bridgerton not seen in the books. His friends Will and Alice Mondrich are brand new characters.
The fundamental drama of the Simon-Daphne marriage is the same in The Duke and I and on Bridgerton: Daphne wants children, but Simon promised his dying father their line would end with him, out of spite. Simon tells Daphne he can’t have children, and Daphne doesn’t know exactly how babies are made, so she doesn’t realize that Simon pulling out is the reason she won’t get pregnant. When Daphne finally learns the truth, she gets on top of him the next time they have sex and prevents him from pulling out despite him telling her to “wait,” twice—a scene that has generated no shortage of controversy. The two then argue about Simon’s deception.
The order of events and the scene itself are both very different (and even more disturbing) in Quinn’s novel. First Daphne confronts Simon about his deception and refuses to sleep with him again, at which point he threatens to rape her, reminding her that he “owns” her, though he ultimately leaves. Later, he revisits her room drunk, and when he’s still half-asleep, she takes advantage and forces him to ejaculate inside her. It’s also notable that at this point Simon knows Daphne doesn’t understand how babies are made, whereas on the show Simon insists he had no idea the extent of her ignorance.
In the books, Mrs. Featherington is already a widow, but Bridgerton gives her a living husband with a gambling addiction. Then he (seemingly) dies at the end of the first season, leaving the family in financial jeopardy. This also provides a cliffhanger that isn’t in the books: Who will inherit Lord Featherington’s estate after his death? Based on Mrs. Featherington’s reaction, someone bad.
Poor Marina can’t catch a break on the page or the screen. On Bridgerton, she is a cousin of the Featheringtons who is sent to London despite being in love with a soldier, George Crane, and secretly pregnant with his child. When he stops responding to her letters, Marina is forced to find a hasty match to save her reputation. When that fails, she unsuccessfully attempts to end the pregnancy. She eventually learns that George stopped responding not because he rejected her, as Mrs. Featherington made her believe, but because he died. Marina receives a proposal from George’s brother in the name of honor rather than love. The last time we see her, she’s off to reluctantly start her new life with Sir Phillip Crane.
In the books, Marina was indeed married to a Sir Phillip Crane after the death of his brother. But we never truly get to know Marina as a character, since she is already dead following a suicide attempt by the fifth book, To Sir Phillip, With Love, when Eloise and Sir Phillip begin a relationship via letters. And it’s clear when Eloise goes to stay with Sir Phillip that he really resents his dead wife for having what modern readers will recognize as lifelong clinical depression. It’s one thing for a character we’ve never met to meet such an unpleasant fate, but given how much time we’ve already spent with Marina, an unhappy marriage and a tragic death seem too dark for a genre that promises that its heroines will live happily ever after, so it’ll be interesting to see what future seasons do with the character.
Also, she’s not related to the Featheringtons in the books. She’s a distant Bridgerton cousin.
The Bridgerton books teased out the reveal of Lady Whistledown’s identity until the fourth book, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, so the big reveal at the end of Season 1 is something of a surprise, though the columnist’s identity is the same in each.
Bridgerton’s first season ends on an image that may confound viewers unfamiliar with the books: The camera pans away from the young couple and their new baby over to … a fuzzy bumblebee crawling along the windowsill. Weird! That bee is a wink toward the second book in the Bridgerton series, The Viscount Who Loved Me, in which bees—yes, bees—play a sometimes tragic, sometimes scandalous role in getting Anthony Bridgerton and his love interest together. That’s as much as I can say without giving anything away, but don’t worry, the heroine does not leave her man for a bee, unlike in a certain movie, nor does the male lead think he’s a bee, as in another certain movie.