This post contains spoilers for BridgertonSeason 1 finale.
Netflix’s Hot New Love Series, Bridgerton, doesn’t necessarily have much of an interest in teaching his audience big “lessons” – but if there’s one thing to take away from his first season, it’s that you should never underestimate a wallflower .
Fans of Julia Quinn’s original romance novels already knew what viewers of the TV series are coming (or will soon) find out about: the famous gossip columnist at the center of Bridgerton, whose pen can make or break the reputation of anyone she loves, is none other than Penelope Featherington. As his nickname all this time was “Pen”.
Speaking to The Daily Beast in a recent interview with Zoom, Derry Girls Actress Nicola Coughlan, whose take on Penelope is as gracious as it is overwhelming, said she was shocked to land the role – and only became more stunned after realizing the importance of Penelope in the series.
Coughlan hadn’t heard of the Bridgerton series before auditioning for the series – a process that turned out to be much simpler than she had imagined. “I went and I did, but thought that because it was Netflix and Shondaland, it would mean like the worst auditing processes; it will be months; I’ll never hear back and blah-blah, “she said. Instead, she got a callback in a few weeks to offer him the role.
Coughlan was surprised at how quickly she heard back – a sentiment that only grew once she started delving into the fan forums and realized that her character was revealed in actually being the city’s infamous gossip.
The processing that reveals took a minute (and a few forum reviews), Coughlan said. Much like her sometimes reluctant character, the actress admitted that she also feels some trepidation. “The book fans are amazing,” Coughlan said, “but they had said a lot about what they thought the adaptation would be and who they wanted to be cast – and they wanted Emma Stone. : ‘Oh no. It’s going to be a terrible disappointment!’
I certainly haven’t read the books. (Although, after watching the show, I’m definitely considering ordering them all at once as a late Christmas present for myself!) But for the non-reader’s eye, Coughlan was just the right choice. to bring Penelope Featherington to life. In her hands, Penelope is more than the two-dimensional archetype of the “wallflower” that can sometimes plague calmer characters. She’s primal and charming and, yes, fairly passive to bullets – but in safer social settings Pen can be passionate and even, at times, petty.
It was this intricate, at times idiosyncratic web of personality and circumstances that first appealed to Coughlan as she delved into the books – especially Book Four, which she notes centered on Penelope. And the revelation in the finale, in which Lady Whistledown escapes capture while delivering her newsletter to printers in a horse-drawn carriage and removing her cape to reveal Penelope’s face, was “the most satisfying thing in the world to film.”
In particular, Coughlan noted, she enjoys the juxtaposition between Penelope’s unenviable social status and the power she wields through her pseudonym. “She is so neglected and ignored,” she says. “In her own family at the balls … She’s just seen as, you know, a little girl – but at the same time, she’s the HBIC in London.”
Lady Whistledown slash Penelope Featherington’s status is doubly fascinating to consider in the context of the times, adds Coughlan, a time when women had little power, personal or professional.
Between the plight of women at the time and the specifically crappy treatment Penelope endured, explains Coughlan, “you can see the motivators” behind her sharp, sometimes ruthless alter ego. “She’s both gentle and complicit,” Coughlan said. “And loving. And, you know, kinda B. She’s all of those things. In other words: she is the perfect character of Shonda Rhimes.
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