Nicola Coughlan: “Bridgerton’s not a slow period drama with long shots of people staring out windows”
Everyone’s excited to see Bridgerton, and Nicola Coughlan is excited for you to see it too.
Playing the intelligent, insightful, and ever-so-witty Penelope Featherington, a nineteenth century debutant in Regency London is a far cry from Derry’s Clare Devlin, but Nicola is confident that she’s done the character justice.
Arriving on Netflix on Christmas Day, the Shonda Rhimes romance drama is one of the most eagerly anticipated series of the year. But according to Nicola, it’s unlike most romance dramas audiences will have seen before.
“It’s really joyful, it’s not a slow period drama with long shots of people staring out windows,” she says. “It’s vibrant and happy and dramatic and sexy.
“But it is fascinating because you’re watching it like, oh my god these women had no agency. They were the property of their fathers until they were passed onto their husbands and they had no say in that.”
Bridgerton’s high society may seem a million miles away from our 21st century ideals – and it is. But beyond the tight corsets, arranged marriages, and scandal sheets, the series isn’t as far away from modern day as we’d like to think. And not just thanks to the music.
Society still places crazy expectations on women. We think we’re so evolved but a lot of the same pressures exist in different guises. We can’t speak for women across the world either. It’s different in the western world, but a lot of women still can’t decide who they marry.
“You’re thinking, who is this serving? Who is this working for? The show is beautiful and it’s bright, but it also has a lot of depth to it. The characters are imperfect and loveable and they have feelings. It’s a lot of things all in one.”
Penelope Featherington, says Nicola, is a bit of a lone shark. She’s got her best friend, Eloise, and she’s got her family. But ultimately, she doesn’t feel like a part of Regency high society.
“At the balls she’s on her own,” she says. “She’s lonely, she doesn’t have someone to tell her every thought to. Penelope keeps it all in, she keeps stock and she observes. [Penelope and Eloise] know they’re smart, and part of them thinks they’re better than everybody else.”
Despite being a lone shark who is “always dressed in yellow,” Penelope still manages to get her fair share of incredible costumes. Nicola’s favourite is a pink handmade piece she wore during a ball scene – one that she says only made it onto the show for a few seconds.
“It’s literally a sliver of me on screen for a second, but it’s my favourite,” says Nicola. “The dress was hand embellished with flowers and Swarovski crystals… and I’m stood in the back of that scene. All the supporting cast’s clothes were made from scratch too. That’s the level of detail that went into every piece on screen.”
As a Shondaland production, Bridgerton was always going to champion diversity. While many shows set in the nineteenth century would rely on a predominantly white cast, Bridgerton does the opposite.
“The industry needs to address the imbalance of how we represent race on screen,” says Nicola. “Some people might argue that it’s a period drama, but that’s what enriches it so much.
“[Shonda] is the most powerful woman in TV. She changed the landscape of television and that had knock on effects for everything.
“You’ve got Golda Rosheuvel playing Queen Charlotte and she is perfect, there’s literally nobody better for that role. We’re making a fantasy show, this is not a documentary about Regency England. It’s its own thing, and it works so well.”
Bridgerton may be unlike any depiction of Regency London that audiences have seen before, but the series does rely on one clever device to keep its viewers interested – the promise of Lady Whistledown’s true identity… And a reveal set to be far more satisfying than that of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liar before it.
“The books have been around for 20 years so they actually predate Gossip Girl, and scandal sheets were a reality during Regency times too,” says Nicola.
“I’ve never actually seen Gossip Girl but I think the reveal will be very different to that. People always love a good gossip and a scandal and just being nosey. I really hope there will be shock and delight.”
Aside from that, Nicola can’t reveal much more. Other than the fact that if season two were to happen, she’d love to reprise her role as Penelope.
“I’d love to go on that journey with her to see how she’s changed,” she says. “We’ve just scratched the surface and established this big world. I’d love to experience more of it.”
Written by Jade Hayden
Published December 24, 2020