review

Bridgerton season three review: Penelope and Colin are not evenly matched

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Bridgerton. (L to R) Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 302 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix  2024
Bridgerton. (L to R) Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 302 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix 2024 Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

There’s no denying that when Bridgerton was released in December 2020, one word was used to describe it above all else, “sexy”.

Or variations on the theme – “steamy”, “hot”, “provocative” and that term British tabloids love to throw around about anyone wearing a short skirt but which makes me cringe, “racy”.

The Shonda Rhimes-produced series adapted from Julia Quinn’s books was a huge hit. It was pure escapist fantasy, set in a world that never existed but drawing on the dating and mating rituals of Regency-era England among the upper classes (nicknamed here “The Ton”) during the debutante season where eligible young women are presented to be married off.

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It might seem anathema to modern viewing tastes that such an archaic tradition would be presented as a romantic ideal but despite the rigidity of its setting, Bridgerton made the argument that a love match was better than any arranged marriage.

That first instalment was all about the romance between Simon, the Duke (Rege-Jean Page), and Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the oldest daughter of the toffy Bridgerton family. And by romance, I mean the sex scenes, including one involving a ladder. So when you find your soulmate, as Daphne did in Simon, surely that means Cupid is winning.

Bridgerton. (L to R) Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 302 of Bridgerton. Cr. Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix  2024
Bridgerton season three turns its attention to Colin and Penelope. Credit: LAURENCE CENDROWICZ/Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

And everything was so pretty. All purple wisteria, bon-bon coloured gowns.

Don’t think too hard about the classism of a show which features almost exclusively super-wealthy people who have nothing to do all day except embroidery (for the women) and pontificating in clubs and brothels (for the men).

Full disclosure, when I watched those first two episodes of season one, I didn’t get it. It’s not that it wasn’t my vibe (love me some Downton Abbey), it’s that I couldn’t buy into Simon as an object of desire. He was cold, imperious and entirely uninteresting. I didn’t watch anymore and didn’t review it.

When the second season came around 15 months later, friend after friend after friend insisted it was better and that the couple at the centre of the stories, Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) were, to put it in social media speak, “hawt”.

I relented and, I confess, I was seduced.

The will-they-won’t-they courtship between Anthony and Kate, complicated by a love triangle that also involved her younger sister, was so compelling, elevated by two characters and two characters who were evenly matched in their tete-a-tetes. OK, OK, I got it.

I was so won over by that second season, I even went back and watched the rest of Daphne and Simon’s story. I was still not a fan, and a lot of that was down to Page’s performance, which lacked the charged energy and emotional nuance of Dynevor’s portrayal.

Bridgerton. Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in episode 302 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix  2024
Nicola Coughlan is a powerhouse performer. Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Simon was all wooden sweet-nothings and dead-eyed come-hither looks, even if Page is, undoubtedly, physically, very attractive. But Simon and Daphne were not an onscreen couple that felt destined to be together.

Season three, now focused on Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton), sits somewhere in between the first and second seasons in terms of its appeal.

We’ve had two seasons with Penelope as a supporting character pining for Colin, who has friend-zoned her. He’s never thought of her as a romantic prospect and neither has anyone else. As she herself declares, she has spent three seasons on the marriage market without any success so she is, at 19 or 20 years old, already a spinster.

When the series returns, Penelope has decided to give up her unrequited crush, made easier by the fact Colin has been travelling overseas getting a glow-up and bedding sex workers.

When he returns, he doesn’t understand why Penelope didn’t respond to his letters, and being semi-frosted out by her drives him to see her in a different way. That’s the idea anyway, but the first four episodes of this season (out now, with the second half of its eight episodes to come in June) rushes the pacing.

After spending two seasons watching their relationship in stasis, the turn happens too quickly. It’s missing a beat or two.

Bridgerton. Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in episode 302 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix  2024
Colin is not it. Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix

But the big problem is, once again, Bridgerton has served up two lovers who aren’t on the same wavelength. And, honestly, Colin (the character, not the actor) gives me the ick, especially this new version that is meant to be more suave and desirable.

Whenever it seems like something will happen between the characters, I found myself saying to Colin, “Eew, no, get away from her, you’re not it”.

Coughlan, an Irish actor who is also known for her role in the marvellous comedy Derry Girls, is a powerhouse performer. She has incredible range and the instincts to make compassionate a character that can be off-putting. She outclasses Newton.

It’s starting to become a pattern that Bridgerton serves up these brilliant female characters with depth and desires, and casts performers who can do them justice, and skimps on the men. They’re just not as impressive. Except, of course, for the criminally charismatic Jonathan Bailey and his dashing Anthony.

When your central promise is a woozy romance, it’s hard to buy into it when the match is not persuasive. The best rom-coms, a genre this third season is leaning more into, have intoxicating couples who can give as much as they take. Harry and Sally, Walter and Hildy, Vivian and Edward – you’re rooting for them.

Plenty of viewers will still love Bridgerton, and on the other counts in terms of how easy it is to while away four hours, the costumes, production design and the supporting characters, it’s all as amiable as a walk in a park with a pretty parasol. It’s just not that hot.

Bridgerton season three part one is streaming now on Netflix

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