Bridgerton author Julia Quinn intervenes in fans’ gender-swap fury

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Bridgerton stars Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton talk about breaking pieces of furniture whilst filming more intimate scenes in season 3.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Bridgerton has very devoted fans and those fans have a lot of opinions.

It’s so sexy! it’s not sexy enough!

That’s particularly true of those who have also read Julia Quinn’s books. As with other fandoms, those who have invested in something — whether that be Star Wars, Marvel, DC or The Lord of the Rings — feel an extra ownership over that thing.

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So, for those who know Quinn’s books intimately, the TV version of Bridgerton hasn’t always lived up to their expectations, especially when the writers diverge from the novels.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SEASON THREE

Bridgerton. (L to R) Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton, Victor Alli as John Stirling in episode 306 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix  2024
Francesca Bridgerton and John Stirling, a newly minted couple. Liam Daniel/Netflix Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

The latest instalment of Bridgerton found itself mired in such a controversy when the second half of season three dropped last week. The fans are not happy.

In one of the final moments, the series introduced a character, Michaela Stirling. In the scene, Francesca Bridgerton and her new husband John Stirling, are ready to set off for his country home in Scotland. And Michaela is introduced as John’s cousin.

A look is exchanged between Francesca and Michaela and the tension is palpable.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR UPCOMING BRIDGERTON STORYLINES

In the book When He Was Wicked, Michaela is Michael, and Francesca and Michael embark on a passionate romance after John unexpectedly dies.

While the TV-only enthusiasts saw nothing more than a sexually charged meet-cute, the book fans were in uproar at the gender-swapping of the character, which also changes Francesca’s sexuality.

Bridgerton. (L to R) Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton, Victor Alli as John Stirling, Masali Baduza as Michaela in episode 308 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix  2024
The moment Francesca meets Michaela. Liam Daniel/Netflix Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Quinn, the book’s author, has had to step in and try to tamp down the onslaught of negative comments on social media. She acknowledged that some fans were disappointed with the changes, but she made a strident defence of the TV show’s decision.

“Anyone who has seen an interview with me from the past four years knows that I am deeply committed to the Bridgerton world becoming more diverse and inclusive as the stories move from book to screen,” she wrote.

Quinn said that when Bridgerton’s new showrunner Jess Brownell approached her about the idea, she needed more information to ensure the spirit of the book would remain the same.

“Jess and I talked for a long time about it. More than once,” Quinn continued, and said she was now confident that Francesca’s season would be “the most emotional and heart-wrenching story of the show”.

While thanking fans for their commitment to the characters and the universe, Quinn added, “I ask that you grant me and the Shondaland team some faith as we move forward. I think we are going to end up with two stories, one on page, and one on screen, and they will both be beautiful and moving”.

Brownell told Teen Vogue she related to When He Was Wicked as a queer woman, “I think Julia Quinn’s intention in the book is just that Fran feels different because she’s introverted. But for many of us in the queer community, that sense of feeling different is a part of our stories.

“I felt like there was fertile ground thematically in her book to nod toward telling a queer story. There are also some elements of her story that allow us to make sure we can tell a pretty happy ending for Francesca and Michaela.

“It was important for me in telling a main queer story for us to be able to give them a happily ever after, as we have with every other couple.”

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