Maureen Lee Lenker Introduces ‘Bridgerton’, a Risqué Regency Romance from Shonda Rhimes
EW Digital Writer, Maureen Lee Lenker, discusses the new Netflix series, 'Bridgerton,' applauds the show's diversity, and praises the series' standout performances including those from Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, and Nicola Coughlan.
Bridgerton was the ultimate Christmas gift for romance fans, and now the only thing we want is more Bridgerton. There simply will never be enough stolen glances, smoldering dukes, glittering ballrooms, feisty heroines, and steamy interludes to satisfy us.
Netflix’s new series, its first from Shondaland and showrunner Chris Van Dusen, follows Daphne (Phoebe Dyvenor) as she embarks on a fake relationship with Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), only to end up falling for him. The Regency-era romantic drama is based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn, which got us immediately thinking about the thousands of other amazing historical romances that would make excellent fodder for a television series. Hell, we would like to request a whole cinematic universe. Because even with this list, there’s so many more worthy titles.
Here are 15 historical romance series we’d like to see adapted next. Call us, Netflix.
Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels and Bareknuckle Bastards series
It’s honestly impossible to pick only one Sarah MacLean series to adapt because her writing is so inherently cinematic. The smoky backrooms of her casino and chilly streets of Covent Garden ooze with life. We’d suggest either her Rules of Scoundrels series, which follows four owners of a 19th-century casino (also known as a gaming hell for extra oomph) called “The Angel.” Each of them has a shadowy past they must overcome to find love, and the plot pulses with intrigue (including one of romance’s best twists ever, skillfully crafted over the course of four books). But then there’s her Victorian Bareknuckle Bastards, three individuals (Devil, Beast, and Dahlia) who’ve built themselves an empire out of the ashes of their past and the rookeries of Covent Garden. If romance wants an altogether darker, grittier series to adapt, this is the one, with its shades of Taboo and Peaky Blinders. It’s sinful and delicious and ripe for adaptation. Or better yet, give us both.
The Gilded Age Cinematic Universe
Julian Fellowes is working on bringing audiences a series set in the Gilded Age, the American answer to the Edwardian drama of Downton Abbey. That star-studded show is sure to stoke an appetite for this late 19th-century world, with its tales of New York City glitterati replete with Vanderbilts and Astors. Two authors, Joanna Shupe and Maya Rodale, have crafted brilliant romances out of this era. So why not combine their work into a series? Parts of it could be uptown with Shupe’s sizzling The Four Hundred and Uptown Girls series, full of jaw-dropping, opulent homes and glittering balls. Then it could venture downtown with Rodale’s Gilded Age Girls Club that features heroines breaking barriers as fashion designers, make-up inventors, and department store magnates. We're starry-eyed just thinking about the sets and costumes alone.
Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League series
Before she became the darling of contemporary royal fiction (check out the Reluctant Royal series!), Alyssa Cole wrote this vital and vibrant series set in the world of spies working to undermine the Confederacy during the Civil War. Cole did extensive research and based the organization and spy missions in this trilogy on the real Loyal League organization built by African Americans and abolitionists. There’s electric suspense in these pages, as well as a searing examination of the lasting scars of slavery and systemic racism. Cole isn’t afraid to go there, and while Bridgerton gave us the kind of inclusive casting romance requires, we’d love to see a series that engages directly with these issues. The Loyal League would play as historical thriller and romance in equal measure, keeping viewers on the edge of their seat in a potent series that champions the capacity to find joy and love even in our darkest times.
Cat Sebastian’s Sedgwicks series
We love that Bridgerton included LGBTQ characters in its storytelling, but what would be truly fantastic would be a historical romance series that foregrounds them as protagonists. Cat Sebastian has a rich back catalog available for adaptation, but we’d personally like to see the Sedgwicks series about the sons of a radical poet be brought to life. It kicks off with the tale of a grumpy sea captain and the vicar who catches his eye in a delightful Regency riff on The Sound of Music, and it only gets more delightful from there. Sebastian acknowledges the realities of the era, while still ensuring her characters’ revel in each other and the love they bravely seize.
Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series
For the last several years, Vanessa Riley has been upending the established narrative of who “belongs” in Regency-era romance, using real history to remind readers that everyone deserves a happy ending and a place in the narrative. Her latest series, Rogues and Remarkable Women, is not only achingly romantic, but relevant in the utmost with its explorations of mental health and how it is weaponized against women (and women of color in particular). Her novels focus on heroines with Caribbean roots and are rife with historical detail, leaving room for a series that delves into the reality of the historical moment in compelling ways. With just a touch of the Gothic.
Manda Collins’ <em>Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem</em>
Manda Collins is a well-established author of historical fiction, but her latest series would make for an exciting television series that would capitalize on the young female detective energy of films like Enola Holmes. A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem combines romance and mystery as Lady Katherine Bascomb sets out to catch a killer and wrestle with her attraction to Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham. The book is playful in its probing of true crime fandom, while acknowledging the sobering realities of violence against women. With its winking feminist tone, we imagine an adaptation that has the liveliness of the best Sherlock adaptations with a long overdue heroine at its center.
Janna MacGregor’s Cavensham Heiresses series
Janna MacGregor captures the trappings of the Regency era with aplomb in her Cavensham Heiresses series. Her books are full of feisty heroines (and sometimes meek ones just waiting for the right person to unlock their inner fire), and MacGregor never met a rake she didn’t like. We’ve seen variations on every Jane Austen novel countless times, but if adaptors are looking for something new with Austen’s spirit, humor, and dashing heroes, they can’t do better than McGregor.
Chanel Cleeton’s <em>Next Year in Havana</em>
Technically, Chanel Cleeton’s series are women’s fiction and not romance, but they’ve found such rapturous fans in the community because of their lushly romantic storytelling, we couldn’t resist including them. Cleeton has built a stirring, generation-sweeping tale for her Perez family, beginning with Next Year in Havana’s story of a granddaughter discovering the secrets of her grandmother’s romance against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution. Each of the novels delves into an area of history rarely depicted in fiction, offering a fresh perspective. Cleeton’s storytelling pulses with the kind of deep yearning and historical resonance practically made for the world of prestige drama.
Martha Waters’ <em>To Have and To Hoax</em>
A lot of the series on this list would be excellent fodder for romantic dramas, but we all need a great rom-com series in our lives too, right? Look no further than Martha Waters’ To Have and To Hoax, which takes the fizzy millennial wit of Clueless and infuses it back in to the Regency from whence Cher Horowitz (modeled on Austen’s Emma) came. Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley have been estranged for years after an epic fight at the start of their marriage. But when a misreported accident prompts Violet to feign illness, the two start to engage in a hilarious game of manipulation and escalating hijinks. Imagine if Nora Ephron directed a Regency-era film and you’d get some idea of the delight that a Waters adaptation might be.
Beverly Jenkins’ Destiny trilogy
Beverly Jenkins has been one of the world's preeminent historical romance authors since the early ‘90s. It’s fitting then that her novel Forbidden is already in development via romantic bookstore The Ripped Bodice’s deal with Sony Pictures Television. But might we ask for even more? The Destiny trilogy brings readers to the Destiny ranch, property of the Yates family. It begins with ranch owner Logan Yates and the fiery Philadelphian housekeeper, Mariah, he can’t help falling for. We’d love to see the entire Yates family saga brought to life, but we’re particularly keen on the third book Destiny’s Captive which features some piratical swashbuckling adventures. At any rate, Jenkins’ work offers up a historical setting far from the ballrooms of Bridgerton, but no less engrossing.
Amanda Quick’s Burning Cove series
Amanda Quick does romantic suspense with a touch of Old Hollywood glamour. Her Burning Cove series is set in a small California beach town that often acts as spa and hideaway for Hollywood’s most infamous. Each of her stories follows a mystery in the town, often bringing together some of Burning Cove’s newest residents via the intrigue. With the panache of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries but even more romantic bliss, Quick’s series is tailor-made for television with its idyllic coastal setting and appealing 1930s overlay.
Scarlett Peckham’s The Secrets of Charlotte Street series
Scarlett Peckham brings a dark, brooding sensibility to historical romance with her alpha heroines that like things a little naughty. The Secrets of Charlotte Street series follows aristocrats with taboo urges and the unconventional women who love them. Peckham uses frank discussions of kink, consensual BDSM, and conversations about shame and guilt surrounding sex to tell searing, emotional stories steeped in her Gothic sensibilities. A Secrets of Charlotte Street series would offer audiences something like Jane Eyre blended with Hulu’s Harlots, infusing the Gothic genre and its obsession with “subversion” with sex positive mores that titillate and provoke in equal measure.
Amalie Howard’s <em>Beast of Beswick</em> and <em>Rakehell of Roth</em>
Technically two standalone novels, Amalie Howard's The Beast of Beswick and The Rakehell of Roth, combine fairytales with Shakespeare to craft intellectual, heartfelt romance. Both novels offer up misunderstood rakes who hold their women at arm’s length, but Howard’s heroines will stop at nothing to protect what they love. Howard’s stories have a fantastical quality to them that lend them the air of a fairy-tale, and her witty take on Shakespeare’s work would continue a long-held tradition of making use of the Bard’s work in inventive ways on screen.
Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series
Courtney Milan has become a focal point for conversation in the romance community, but she’s always offered up lush historical romance novels. Her epic Brothers Sinister series would offer a similarly rich text as Bridgerton to build a series upon. It follows the rakish members of a secret club, whose name hints at their shared attribute: they’re all left-handed. Milan’s books have always brought more inclusivity to historical romance, and Hollywood could do well to start with source material that offers that from the word go. Plus, her books are warm, funny, and filled with smart protagonists and heroes who have to earn their heroines’ love. We could all use a little more groveling in our screen adaptations.
Sherry Thomas’ London trilogy and Fitzhugh series
Before she won legions of new fans with her winning Lady Sherlock series (which would also make a great show!), Sherry Thomas wrote swoony historical romances known for their lyrical prose. Thomas’ series delve deep into themes of betrayal, unrequited love, and societal pressures, tinging her romance with addictive yearning and potent stakes. But more than anything, she excels at dialogue, making her a screenwriter’s dream when it comes to adaptation.