Since its Christmas day debut on Netflix, Bridgerton has risen to become the most watched program on the streaming platform. Audiences and critics have fallen in love with the Netflix original’s unconventional romance period piece, and one such unconventional character is Penelope Featherington portrayed by Nicola Coughlan (Derry Girls). Speaking to Entertainment Weekly on Monday, Coughlan described that shocking finale, and her experience of playing a Regency-era bright young woman.
Taking place in London during the early 1800s, Bridgerton follows several families through the ups and downs of scandal, high society, and the business of getting married. Penelope is part of the Featherington clan, with a mother and two sisters who are dead ringers for the step sisters and evil mother in Cinderella.
*Warning: Contains Major Spoilers for Season One of Bridgerton*
It’s revealed during the season one finale that Penelope is the ruthless gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, the gossip girl of her era. Masking her true identity, one of the driving storylines throughout the first season is finding out who Lady Whistledown is and it’s safe to say no one saw Penelope coming. Writing pieces that expose scandals, she single handedly destroys reputations. Notably, the Lady Whistledown columns are narrated by Dame Julie Andrews (The Princess Diaries).
Breaking her silence on that shocking revelation in the season one finale, Coughlan told Entertainment Weekly about her discovery that Penelope was Lady Whistledown: “But for me to know that was really important, because it changes everything about her. It means that she’s this crazy active listener all the time. She’s the most low-status character in any room, but she’s the most high-status as well, like she controls all of London society while being looked down on as this total wallflower. It hugely informed how I played the part. Also, it was really fun when people didn’t know, and they wanted to know.”
On portraying such a layered and calculated role, Coughlan discussed with Entertainment Weekly what drove Penelope to become Lady Whistledown: “See, that’s the fascinating thing about her. She’s really hard to describe in a couple of words, because she’s complex, but then human beings are. Real life is not Disney, where there’s the goodies and the baddies. Penelope is all the things. She is really sweet, but then she’s super-conniving, and she obviously has learned to keep secrets. I have to look at her family dynamic. She’s such the outsider in that family. Her sisters have one another, her mum is very independent, her dad doesn’t pay attention to her, so I think she was used to just internalizing her thoughts. Also because she’s been bullied essentially her whole life, she tried to find an outlet.”
Bridgerton is executive produced by Shonda Rhimes (How to Get Away With Murder, Grey’s Anatomy), and Betsy Beers (200 Cigarettes). Frequent Rhimes collaborator Chris Van Dusen (Private Practice) is the series creator and showrunner.