When Netflix signed a development deal with the ultimate television boss, Shonda Rhimes, it paid a huge amount to do so. Rhimes had been responsible for such mega hits as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, as well as the eternally pleasurable How to Get Away with Murder, and the Netflix deal was the first of its kind, setting a precedent for other star producers to follow in her footsteps. When she announced, in 2018, that she was the highest-paid showrunner in television, she said she did so because she noticed that men didn’t have a problem with revealing their successes. She teed up the declaration with: “On behalf of women everywhere, I will brag.”
She was right to brag. Netflix saved the release of her adaptation of the Bridgerton novels for Christmas Day, which gave it an old-fashioned fanfare, the sense that it was something special. It also had the backdrop of a tediously familiar terrestrial television landscape that asked viewers, once again, to Strictly Call the Doctor and brought as much joy as a festive mask. Last week, the streaming service announced that Bridgerton is now its biggest series ever, revealing that, globally, 82m households chose to watch the period drama within its first 28 days.
To exercise a modicum of caution here, Netflix has, shall we say, an optimistic way of defining what it means by “chosen to watch”; playing two minutes of a show indicates intent, which means that at least 82 million people saw at least two minutes of Bridgerton. By that measure, I am now an expert on everything from knitting to bird watching and Spanish, having watched roughly two minutes of instructional YouTube videos on each, and have seen the entire works of Éric Rohmer, having watched the trailer for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend on Mubi, before opting for Frozen 2 instead.
That’s not to downplay its success. Bridgerton is massive and is massive precisely because Rhimes is an expert at what she does, which is producing moreish crowd-pleasers that are unapologetically entertaining and practically allergic to pretentiousness. As tense as it often is, I use the medical saga of Grey’s Anatomy as my equivalent of the mindfulness app Headspace, which I could never master. If telly is too bleak – and that’s the news etc – then a Shondaland show promises to be an engrossing distraction. I watched Bridgerton in the traditional wasteland of those days between Christmas and the new year, which have now stretched out indefinitely. It was a perfect balm.
Kristen Stewart’s Diana made me do a double take
Last June, it was announced that Kristen Stewart would be playing Diana, Princess of Wales, in a new biopic, Spencer, and it seemed an unusual casting choice, given Stewart’s brand of fidgety cool-bro awkwardness. (I know, I know, “acting” and all that, but I ended up imagining Diana saying “like” and “dude” and stuffing her hands into her pockets.) Last week, as production began, a photograph of Stewart in the role was released and she’s all head-tilting, doe-eyed realness and looks so much like Diana that I did a double take. Acting! Who knew!
The film has some impressive names involved, with Jackie’s Pablo Larraín directing and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood writing the score, and what seemed like an odd fish, at first, suddenly sounds very promising. The story is set during Christmas at Sandringham, in 1991, and the synopsis makes it sound either like a comedy caper or a Jordan Peele-esque horror; I can’t quite decide which: “There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. This year, things will be a whole lot different.”
I’m as excited to see what emerges, though, as I am to discover how upset Oliver Dowden is going to get about it.
Carey Mulligan’s socko punch on the nose for Variety
I read an article in the film industry mag Variety that detailed Carey Mulligan responding to an apology she had received from Variety, after she had criticised a review of her new film, Promising Young Woman, that had appeared in Variety. Then I fell down a wormhole and took several hours to recover my senses. During one of those actor-on-actor “let’s talk about the craft” conversations (I love them, I can’t help myself), Mulligan was asked by Zendaya, star of the television teen drama Euphoria, about why she had decided to speak out against a critic whom she felt had insinuated she was not “hot” enough to play her character.
I admired Mulligan for sticking her neck out and starting a discussion about it, though I felt for the critic too, who has since called her interpretation “quite a leap”. Talking about it so openly struck me as quite new and something that might not have happened until relatively recently.
Last week, Keira Knightley discussed nude scenes on the podcast Chanel Connects and while she said she doesn’t have “an absolute ban” on them, “I kind of do with men”, adding that she feels “very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze”.
These conversations were certainly happening before 2017 and Hollywood’s #MeToo awakening, but more on the fringes. Now, big, award-friendly movie stars are talking, right there in the mainstream, about the fallacy of airbrushed perfection, the male gaze, and how that affects them and their work.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist