Penelope & Colin’s Romance Sparks

Netflix‘s acclaimed 19th century-set “Bridgerton” has returned for the first half of its third season, and it’s more lush and enticing than audiences might remember. Season 3 opens as a new crop of debutantes enter the marriage market. As the young ladies prepare to dazzle Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), the latest Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) gossip pamphlet is being distributed. In Season 3 Part 1, familiar faces are spotlighted, new and evolving friendships flourish and blossoming romances infuse an air of freshness into the show. The catalyst for all this change begins with the metamorphosis of Penelope Featherington (a stellar Nicola Coughlan). 

Back in London after a summer spent in the countryside, Penelope is in the same place we last saw her. Yet, everything around her has shifted. Still on the outs with her former best friend, Eloise (Claudia Jesse), following their explosive blowup at the end of Season 2, and vexed with Colin (Luke Newton) for the disparaging remarks he made about her, Pen is a lone wolf. Though she’s leaned on her work as Lady Whistledown in the past, the thought of being at the mercy of the whims of her conniving mother, Portia (Polly Walker), or her superficial and cruel sisters, Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Philippa (Harriet Cains), has become unbearable. Therefore, Penelope decides her only recourse is to find a husband. Unfortunately, stepping into the marriage market for a third season, dressed in loud, garish clothing with a slew of dreadful ringlet curls piled on her head, isn’t going to cut it. 

Penelope’s initial task is to overhaul her wardrobe. She casts aside her childish citrus gowns. Instead, she cloaks herself in stunning baby blue and seafoam green silks (creations from “Bridgerton” costume designer John Glaser), styling her red hair in soft waves and carefully swirled baby hairs (the work of hair and makeup artist Erika Ökvist). Despite her new look, learning to chat up prospective suitors isn’t a skill Pen can purchase from the modiste.

As Penleope wallows in self-doubt, Colin is totally at ease with himself and the women vying for his attention. Following his months-long travels across Europe, he’s returned to London donning a rugged new look. Desperate to get back into Pen’s good graces, Colin offers to help her learn to flirt with gentlemen. However, seeing Penelope’s confidence bloom while gaining the attention of the eccentric but attractive Lord Debling (Sam Phillip), Colin starts to view Penelope in a new light. 

The chemistry between the leads in “Bridgerton” and “Queen Charlotte” has consistently been praised. Still, there is something about seeing the bond between Colin and Penelope transform from comfortably platonic to yearning and passionate that elevates this journey.  Coughlan and Newton have always had a beautiful rapport, but watching Colin realize he desires Penelope sexually, which is revealed through his fixation on her lips and a newfound fascination with everything she’s doing, creates a sparkling tension throughout Part 1 that threatens to burst off the screen. In fact, during a carriage ride after a ball at the end of Episode 4, “Old Friends,” it nearly does. 

As usual, diversity is at the forefront of “Bridgerton.” This season, the Mondrichs, Alice (Emma Naomi) and Will (Martins Imhangbe), are no longer relegated to the sidelines. Moreover, differently abled members of the Ton are showcased, including a deaf debutant and a wheelchair-bound Lord. This inclusivity reinforces Shondaland and Netflix’s commitment to bringing all six Bridgerton siblings’ love stories to the screen while addressing and representing a 21st-century viewing audience.  

Also, though Polin is kept firmly in the spotlight, new showrunner Jess Brownell and her writers serve up some juicy subplots. They take the time to reveal some of the layers of characters who had previously been on the fringes of the narrative. Francesca (Hannah Dodd replacing Ruby Stokes), the pianoforte-loving sixth Bridgerton sibling, is also making her debut on the marriage market. While she’s just as stunning and poised as her older sister, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), Francesca has her own unique ideas regarding love and partnership. 

Like Pen, the blonde and statuesque Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) is trying to snag a husband for the third year in a row. Despite her sour disposition, audiences learn that there is more to Cressida than her snide remarks and competitive nature. Like all of the women in the Ton, the future trajectory of her life depends on her getting a suitable marriage proposal, which is no small feat. As usual, Queen Charlotte and Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) are bending the Ton to their will in the background, but it’s Lady Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) who gets to do much more than mothering this season. 

“Bridgerton” Season 3, Part 1 marks the beginning of Polin’s electric romance, but that’s merely the core of the story. Going after what you desire is the theme that anchors these initial four episodes. Though various characters approach this tactic in a plethora of different ways, watching Penelope choose herself (and Lady Whistledown) even when she’s uncertain about the outcome is extremely heartening.  Additionally, it’s a reminder that even if you get exactly what you want, it might come at a cost.

All episodes of “Bridgerton” Season 3 Part 1 are streaming on Netflix.

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