‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 Part 1 Review: Netflix Hit Swerves With Swoon-Worthy Book Changes

“Bridgerton” might have finally hit its stride in Season 3. It’s not as if the Netflix juggernaut didn’t thrill and titillate in its first two seasons, which mostly faithfully adapted the first two books in Julia Quinn’s series of historical romance novels, but now it’s clear there was a sort of shimmer that hadn’t been found yet. Season 3 has that shimmer in spades, even in just its first four episodes.

The series follows the love lives of each of the eight Bridgerton siblings, each of whom has grown up in a loving, happy family tainted a bit by the shocking death of the Bridgerton patriarch a couple decades ago. Everybody’s got some baggage based on their position in the family, giving them each something to overcome as they fall in love and get married, like every sensible man and woman should in the early 1800s. The first season followed Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the oldest Bridgerton girl, as she fell for the Duke of Hastings (Rege Jean Page). Season 2 saw the oldest sibling, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), cause a bit of scandal by falling in love with Kate (Simone Ashley), the sister of the woman he was supposed to marry.

While the third book in the series follows second oldest brother Benedict (Luke Thompson) and his own scandalous love story, the show is skipping ahead just a bit to Book 4, to pay off the longstanding crush that Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) has harbored on third Bridgerton brother Colin (Luke Newton). In a way, Penelope has always been the unsung star of the show. She’s been working behind the scenes as Lady Whistledown, the mysterious gossip hound who anonymously rules the London social scene, and who has dutifully been keeping the Bridgertons at the top of everyone’s minds with her salacious pamphlets. Penelope is the ultimate wallflower, ignored by her family and considered a spinster and a lost cause, so there’s an automatic satisfaction in seeing her finally take the spotlight. Luckily, her time there is worth the wait.

Nicola Coughlan in “Bridgerton” Season 3 (Netflix)

It feels as if straying from the book order has also freed the Netflix drama’s new showrunner Jess Brownell (taking over for Chris Van Dusen) from sticking too closely to what avid book readers might expect. The first two seasons both made changes to the stories, for better and worse. Season 2 made significantly bad choices when it came to Kate and Anthony, forcing Anthony to leave Kate’s poor sister at the altar and making their story feel a little less celebratory and a lot more cruel. This time around, Brownell and her writers made changes that make perfect sense. What works on the page (or sometimes doesn’t even work there) doesn’t always work on screen, and Penelope and Colin’s story is far better and even more satisfying than it is in the book. It’s not a spoiler to say that they fall in love, but how they get there — and how other stories dance around them in the meantime — is the thrilling part.

Realizing she’s facing a lifetime of being her meddling mother’s constant companion, Penelope decides it’s time, once and for all, to find herself a husband. Her best friend and longtime crush Colin once declared he would never court her, so instead, they work out an arrangement where he essentially gives her dating lessons. He helps her with conversation topics and flirting tricks while she uses her extensive Whistledown fortune to give herself a brand new wardrobe full of colors that actually look good on her. She quickly catches the eye of a man named Lord Debling (Sam Phillips), a kind, respectful, vegetarian naturalist looking for a wife to handle his estate while he travels the world. Colin, meanwhile, watches this unfold while his sister Francesca (Hannah Dodd) makes her debut and catches some eyes of her own, and he begins to wonder if his days of revelry might be behind him.

You can guess what unfolds next, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. It’s in anticipation where the magic lies, as many a romance writer has long known. We know Colin will eventually enamor Penelope before she commits to Lord Debling, and by the time the show gets there, we’re all as breathless as Penelope is.

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Lord Debling (Sam Phillips) in "Bridgerton" Season 3 (Netflix)
Penelope Featherington and Lord Debling in “Bridgerton” Season 3 (Netflix)

But there’s also a whole lot more going on outside of Penelope’s dream come true. Francesca is quickly figuring out what she wants and doesn’t want in a husband, while Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) has accepted that her life is now just watching her children get married and leave the nest, unless perhaps there’s more in store. A handsome new gentleman, a father and widower, keeps showing up out of nowhere to leave her unexpectedly flustered. Benedict, meanwhile, is dodging any real responsibility left and right, while Eloise (Claudia Jessie) just wants to be able to have a conversation that’s not about having to find a husband. Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) takes a bit of a backseat in these first four episodes, but she’s still waging a one-sided war with Whistledown over matchmaking skills.

Speaking of the anonymous author, she continues to provide the ton with great reading material, but her future is a mystery for the back half of the season to solve. Penelope’s side hustle is sure to divide the people around her, especially the now very gallant Colin Bridgerton. Only time will tell if his love is strong enough to withstand the scandal. But if these first four episodes are any indication, the rest of the season will be well worth the anticipation.

“Bridgerton Season 3, Part 1” is now streaming on Netflix.

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