BBC History Magazine
SCANDALOUS SCREEN PORTRAYALS Siena Rosso in
Georgian stereotypes of prima donnas have proved enduring, as two recent period dramas prove Bridgerton
Netflix’s Bridgerton taps into two very real Georgian obsessions: propriety and scandal. Siena Rosso (played by Sabrina Bartlett) is an opera singer, though little screen time is devoted to her singing. Instead, she is often shown naked, lying in the arms of her secret lover, Viscount Anthony Bridgerton. Siena’s styling – beauty spot, exposed shoulders and a scarlet dress
– suggests she is a seductive temptress.
Bridgerton does well to show the unique social divide between Anthony and Siena. He is her social superior, but he risks his name and reputation if their liaison were ever made public. In reality, a prima donna in Siena’s position also risked her reputation since a relationship with a wealthy nobleman would confirm what everyone already suspected.
The Greatest Showman
The Swedish soprano Jenny Lind was the inspiration behind one of the lead characters (played by Rebecca Ferguson) in the 2017 musical telling of showman PT Barnum’s life. The film references several real-life events, including the time when Barnum risked everything to lure Lind out of retirement to tour the US.
Known as the “Swedish Nightingale”, Lind was hugely famous in 19th-century Europe and performed for Queen Victoria. She is undeniably talented in the film, but is also a seductress who tries to tempt Barnum into an affair. Of course, no such affair occurred.
In fact, the real Lind was close with another married man, composer Felix Mendelssohn. Their relationship was not publicly known when they were alive, but evidence has emerged that Mendelssohn wrote several love letters to Lind, which were later burned.