‘Bridgerton effect’ hides reality of black lives in British history, says Sara Collins

Confessions of Frannie Langton writer applauds Netflix hit but warns of impact of ‘fantasy’ on viewers

Viewers are being “lulled into a false sense of security about black people in period dramas” because of “the Bridgerton effect”, according to the writer of a historical drama spearheading the launch of ITV’s streaming service ITVX.

The Costa award-winning author Sara Collins said she wrote The Confessions of Frannie Langton, about an enslaved Jamaican woman in London, as a “black Jane Eyre” to fill a gap, as there were not enough stories about the reality of black people’s history.

Collins said her gothic romance was “entirely different” from the “colourblind” casting of Netflix hit show Bridgerton: “This is colour-focused casting. Bridgerton is a fantasy; it’s a nice fantasy but what really interests me is we don’t lose sight of the truth.”

Costa award-wining author Sara Collins’ historical drama is spearheading the launch of ITV’s streaming service ITVX.
Costa award-wining author Sara Collins’ historical drama is spearheading the launch of ITV’s streaming service ITVX. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Collins applauded Bridgerton for helping audiences become “acclimatised” to seeing more diversity in historical dramas, but said she was concerned people being “numbed to how difficult” it was” for black people in Britain in the past because some may think “but weren’t we queens and dukes?”. She called this “the Bridgerton effect”.

Speaking at the launch for her series in London, Collins said: “A lot of people are probably being lulled into a false sense of security about black people in period dramas”, but that in The Confessions of Frannie Langton “we’re trying to navigate a kind of truth that history hasn’t told completely and that’s why it’s important”.

She added: “I was left with this question, why hasn’t a black woman been the star of her own gothic romance? So this is Jane Eyre if Jane Eyre was black and had shagged the mad woman in the attic and maybe killed Mr Rochester.”

Set in Georgian London, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is the story of an intelligent Jamaican woman brought to England who is accused of a double murder after falling in love with the wife of the eugenics-obsessed scientist she works for.

Collins said she wanted to avoid the “stereotypical, stale, boring old portrayals of slavery” that were “all about stories of physical suffering”, deliberately including a scene in a spanking parlour, so “the only people being whipped in this show are white men”.

She said she thought it was the first TV love story with “slavery as its backdrop”, while the director, Andrea Harkin, added, “This is not your average period drama … a story like this is so overdue; we haven’t seen a character like Frannie on screen.”

Karla-Simone Spence, who plays Frannie, said she felt she “owed it” to her character to show the trauma she had faced, while the producer, Carol Harding, said it was interesting that ITV was doing this as a commercial drama.

The four-part drama comes as ITVX revealed a lineup that industry analysts said was designed to help ITV “fight back” against the global streaming giants – spending an extra £160m on new shows such as the black drama Riches, A Spy Among Friends, starring Damian Lewis and Anna Maxwell Martin, and Litvinenko, in which David Tennant plays the poisoned former Russian agent.

ITVX replaces ITV Hub and will provide viewers with what Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of ITV, described as a “more personalised viewing and advertising experience”.

Nick Waters, the chief executive of the media analyst firm Ebiquity, said: “It represents a real opportunity for television as a whole to fight back. We can expect younger audiences that have left linear TV to be drawn in. With new shows scheduled to drop every week it will provide the freshness of content … audiences crave.”

The Confessions of Frannie Langton broadcasts when ITVX launches on 8 December

• This article was amended on 24 November 2022 to clarify comments made by Karla-Simone Spence about her motivation for playing Frannie Langton

Contributor

Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Broadcasters release box sets to tackle slump in festive viewing figures
Digital services such as iPlayer are packed with reruns as research shows Christmas Day watching down by a quarter since 2012

Mark Sweney

23, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
British TV drama for autumn 2018: water-cooler moments are back
Bodyguard, Press and Killing Eve lead bumper crop of unmissable shows

Lanre Bakare

14, Sep, 2018 @12:51 PM

Article image
David Olusoga: racism in British TV has led to 'lost generation' of black talent
Lack of BAME people in executive and behind-camera roles down to being ignored or worn down by industry, says historian

Jim Waterson Media editor

24, Aug, 2020 @6:45 PM

Article image
Mars attacks! Big night for Sunday TV as War of the Worlds hits screens
BBC series up against the return of Netflix drama The Crown and ITV’s I’m a Celebrity

Aamna Mohdin

15, Nov, 2019 @4:07 PM

Article image
Tony Hall: BBC must fight US tech firms to protect British values
Director general to warn of threat to social unity amid rising dominance of ‘west coast giants’

Caroline Davies

04, Mar, 2018 @2:18 PM

Article image
Reality TV fuels body anxiety in young people, says survey
Study by Mental Health Foundation finds 24% say shows cause body image issues

Mattha Busby

02, Jun, 2019 @11:00 PM

Article image
UK broadcasters cut spending on British shows to lowest point in decade
BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 slashed spending last year on UK programming as pandemic hit

Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

08, Sep, 2021 @12:43 PM

Article image
David Harewood says black British actors may be better suited to American roles
Harewood, who plays CIA director in Homeland, says UK actors may be able to more easily ‘unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities’

Esther Addley

13, Mar, 2017 @7:49 PM

Article image
More than 8m people tune in to final of ITV's The Masked Singer
Final of celebrity singing contest is most watched show of 2021 so far outside of news and sport

Maya Wolfe-Robinson

14, Feb, 2021 @1:26 PM

Article image
Jeremy Kyle Show suspended following death of guest
ITV halts production and removes programme from catch-up service

Jim Waterson and Matthew Weaver

13, May, 2019 @5:49 PM