As an adaptation of author Julia Quinn's early-aughts romance novel series, Netflix's Bridgerton has thus far been one glorious surprise after another. The series took the all-white, cishet fantasy world of Regency England and reimagined it into a fully integrated universe. This enormously diverse aristocracy featured background characters of all races, but Season 1's focus lacked one of the UK's most ubiquitous minority groups: South Asians. Season 2 has made a significant move to fix that by casting Simone Ashley in a leading role. But who is Ashley's character, Kate Sharma, in Bridgerton? Anthony is about to meet his match.
The UK had a large population of South Asians since the 19th century, when colonialist conquests of India and Pakistan expanded the British Empire worldwide. Currently, that group makes up 7% of the UK population, the largest of any minority.
Bridgerton Season 1's inclusion of leads like Adjoa Andoh (who plays Lady Danbury), Regé-Jean Page (Simon, the Duke of Hastings), Ruby Barker (Marina Thompson), and Golda Rosheuvel (Queen Charlotte) was a step toward erasing the myth that 1810s England was an all-white world. Now, with the casting of Simone Ashley (best known for her role as Olivia in Netflix's Sex Education) as the romantic lead opposite Jonathan Bailey's Anthony for Season 2, the series is set up to introduce a significant South Asian family to the Bridgerton world. It corrects another minority regularly erased from this period, putting them front and center.
Warning: Spoilers for Bridgerton's second novel, The Viscount Who Loved Me, as well as Bridgerton Season 2 speculation, follow.
Book 2 of the Bridgerton series switches focus from Daphne to her eldest brother Anthony. As he did at the end of Netflix's Bridgerton Season 1, the book's version of Anthony decided that removing love from the equation is the best way to conquer marriage. To that end, he has determined he will have the most eligible woman on the marriage mart for the year, Edwina Sheffield. Anthony knows nothing about her or her family, but he learns fast when confronted by Kate, Edwina's overprotective older sister. Despite the family's dwindling fortunes in the wake of their father's death, Kate decides Anthony is not a good match and she must protect Edwina from him at all costs.
Ashley's casting as Kate was not a "colorblind" decision. In the series, her name is now Kate Sharma instead of Kate Sheffield. Moreover, she's not a 10-year veteran of London's ballroom scene who was passed over for marriage due to her sharp tongue. Instead, her heritage is part of her story; she's newly arrived in London for the first time, a fish out of water in the ton's strict set.
It's unclear how much Kate's original story will remain. Deadline described Kate Sharma as a "smart, headstrong young woman who suffers no fools — Anthony Bridgerton very much included," so it seems the character will have the same personality as her book counterpart. But there's no mention of Edwina or their well-meaning stepmother Mary. (There's also no mention of Newton, Kate's faithful corgi.) But if changing the narrative helps Bridgerton dig into some of the ugly parts of Britain's colonialist past, it will be yet another step forward for this adaptation.
Bridgerton Season 2 begins filming this spring.