Adjoa Andoh, as Lady Danbury in the Shondaland-produced Netflix series, Bridgerton, is everyone’s favorite aunt, godmother, or even grandmother. The Ghanaian-British actress and director was at the center of it all in the ton and very instrumental in the matchmaking of Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), and Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor).
Bridgerton is based on the bestselling novels by Julia Quinn. The drama series created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes arrived on Christmas Day and follows two high-society families in Regency-era London.
Upon release, it immediately skyrocketed to be the fifth-largest show on Netflix with over 63 million streams worldwide.
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In the series, Lady Danbury is a widowed duchess, with no children, who has a mind of her own and a voice unlike most women in that era. She is free, rich, powerful, extremely influential, and at the helm of affairs in the ton. Her character in the hit period series mirrors that of a modern-day independent woman who commands the room whenever she enters.
“If you think about women of that era, she’s in a really good position,” she says of her character, “in that she’s not married – she’s widowed, so she’s not subservient to a husband, as was the norm of the Regency period. She’s wealthy, and she’s powerful. As a woman, she’s got the best gig in town.”
Unlike her character, Andoh is married with three children and a preacher in the Church of England. Her acting career spans over 30 years, including a starring role opposite Morgan Freeman in the feature film Invictus, and she is a celebrated figure of the British theatre. Actor-writer-counsellor Deb’bora John Wilson gave her a foot in the door into the theatre.
According to Andoh, she dropped out of college where she was reading law and she and Wilson were in Black Women’s Group together. “She really saw me, took me into her drama class and eventually I auditioned for a show of hers in London. I got the job and that was me for life.”
Andoh’s Ghanaian father was a musician and a journalist and her mother was a history teacher so she was very familiar with the Regency period that the series was set in before her role on the show.
She spoke to Harper’s Bazaar about Lady Danbury and said she sees a lot of her mother and aunts in her. “I just see a lot of all those women who have had to just get on with life, who’ve had to pull up their skirts, and girded their loins, and go.”
“I don’t think she’s a woman who suffers fools gladly. … And I just think there’s a lot of aunties, and moms, and godmothers, and all sorts who are like that. I suppose I wanted to pay tribute to them with Lady Danbury.”
There are three prominent Black figures in Bridgerton — Lady Danbury, Simon and the Queen (played by Golda Rosheuvel), who were part of the upper class. This sparked some controversies after the series premiered because many think it is not a true reflection of the Regency era in England.
However, Andoh believes there is no need for the uproar because for starters, diversity should be embraced at all times and she is “not interested in color-blind casting. Those days are gone.”
The series is fictional with some historical allusions especially to the character of Queen Charlotte who was believed to be born to an African mother and the descendant of Alfonso III of Portugal. There are many historical documents referring to her as one of mixed heritage with her mulatto features sometimes being exaggerated and all.
“There’s real evidence of Black people in this country for centuries,” Andoh explains. “We’ve taken the factual existence of Black people in this country at that time, which is an absolute nailed-on fact and heightened it.
“The fact that people don’t know about it is more about the bad way we teach history than about Bridgerton shoving stuff in that doesn’t exist.”
“We’re not making this stuff up,” Andoh says. “In that sense, we’re putting history back into history.”
The 57-year-old is proud of her African and Black heritage and she used that as an inspiration for her role in Bridgerton. “As a Ghanaian, I come from a long matriarchal lineage; it’s a strong tradition in Ghana. My love of history and experience was an added advantage in my role as Lady Danbury.”