Regé-Jean Page: ‘The reason you think history is white is because you’ve been lied to’

In case you and 82 million others have forgotten how we spent last year’s festive break, a one-word reminder: Bridgerton. As Netflix crowns the Regency romp its most-watched series, Netflixbows to Netflix, the man behind its dashing Duke Of Hastings, who rises next to meet the Russo brothers in the streamer’s biggest-budget blockbuster yet

He tells me a story, which his publicist later sends a link regarding, to ensure I’ve got it, about when Paris was recaptured during the Second World War. The French, he points out, were fighting with mostly black soldiers. But they didn’t want that imagery in the history books so shipped in white soldiers for the victory march. His point is this: when people complain about political correctness when they see a black actor in, say, Dunkirk, they have it the wrong way around:

The reason you think history is white is because you’ve been lied to. It’s not that we’re being politically correct. It’s that we’ve been, very deliberately, politically incorrect.

~ Regé-Jean Page

Regé-Jean Page talks like the spacebar is yet to be invented. He is mildly hungover – we both are; it was England vs Denmark the night before – and he. Is. Excited!

England won, of course, in extra time, and the match saw England playmaker Jack Grealish subbed on only to be subbed off. Page doesn’t so much have thoughts on this as a one-man radio play. It’s about England’s tactics, naturally, but also a cultural shift. It’s about the demise of lad culture. And the rise of feminism. And the fact that Gareth Southgate isn’t just a football manager, but also a cultural touchstone for… It’s best to let him explain.

“So-this-is-exactly-what-you-do-we-all-go-to-a-flat-back-five-we-all-agree-on-that? Yes-OK.” (To be clear, he is answering himself here, presumably because I’d just slow the whole process down.) “We-want-to-be-more-defensive-we’re-not-looking-to-attack-without-defensive-discipline? Yes-right.

So-who-do-we-take-off? Well-obviously-Jack-the-job-he-has-come-on-to-do-has-been-done-and-that’s-real-maturity-which-is-unusual-isn’t-it?” I nod. “We-do-passion-and-blood-and-guts-but-this-kind-of-quiet-maturity-it’s-an-alien-language. So-this-is-why-I-like-the-way-these-things-intersect-with-the-culture-because-if-we’re-talking-about-Euro-96-and-that-kind-of-lad-culture” – which we now are – “that-came-out-of-the-1990s-it-feels-like-Southgate’s-brand-of-quiet-maturity-if-that’s-what-we’re-branding-it” – which we also now are – “would-be-viewed-as-suspiciously-continential-nigh-on-feminist-and-there’s-something-about-all-having-grown-into-being-open-and-taking-about-your-feelings-that…”

The point he’s making – and it’s no less a point for being delivered in the style of someone telling you that a child has fallen down a well – is one of a broader shift in the culture. One in which, just maybe, we are learning to take a step back, Southgate-style, clear-eyed, and are no longer doing things just because that’s how they’ve always been done. Especially if how it’s always been done never makes much sense anyway.

Which is how I knew we were really talking about Bridgerton before we’d even started talking about Bridgerton.

To say it was a smash for Netflix barely hints at it. The Regency-era drama, in which Page played the dashing Duke Of Hastings, was the streaming service’s biggest series ever. Launched last December, 82 million households worldwide tuned into the show in its first 28 days online, almost half of Netflix’s entire subscriber base. And it catapulted the 31-year-old from the guy you might have seen in the 2016 remake of Roots (in which he played the fast-talking – naturally – Chicken George) or the BBC school drama Waterloo Road (in which he played the smouldering – naturally – teacher Guy Braxton) into an instant A-list leading man, with an Emmy nomination to boot.

But more important than the figures were the faces. It may have been based on Julia Quinn’s novels and centred around the world of debutantes and dances, but this was no by-the-book Austen adaption: it was snappy, snarky and don’t-watch-with-older-relatives sexy.

During the initial table read of the scripts, Page remembers someone saying, “How do you read this? This isn’t what an Austen adaption looks like.” As he puts it to me now, “And it’s like, ‘No, it’s not an Austen adaption. That’s the point.’ It’s triple the speed!” He clicks his fingers. “The whole thing is a bit less precious and a bit more fun.”

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