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Bridgerton season three review – still unbearably sexy
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Bridgerton season three review – still unbearably sexy

Always a pleasure, never a chore (but sometimes an over-saccharine trifle): Bridgerton is back! Having lassoed the zeitgeist upon its 2020 debut – and fast-tracked its young stars to household names in the process – it feels odd to note that this is merely the third outing for Netflix’s costume drama for people who don’t like costume dramas. That is a real credit to the show: Bridgerton has established its arresting yet soothing take on Regency Mayfair with aplomb. It’s an immaculately constructed dreamland; the pinnacle of comfort TV.

It’s also immediately clear that Bridgerton is benefiting from having two seasons under its corset already, laying the foundations for the most captivating courtship yet. Thus far, each series has focused on different members of the Bridgerton children as per Julia Quinn’s novels: Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) found love with Regé-Jean Page’s Duke of Hastings, before eldest son Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) met his match in 26-year-old “spinster” Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley). This season sees Francesca Bridgerton, a composed pianist with a businesslike approach to marriage, make her society debut. Yet the real beating-heart of these first four episodes (the final four will be released in mid-June) is the long-simmering romance between Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and his neighbour Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan).

Colin, newly returned from yet more travels, now has the charming cad act down to a T: he spends his evenings flirting with tittering debutantes and his nights getting his end away at the local den of iniquity. Penelope, meanwhile, can feel herself slipping into spinsterhood; with her sisters married-off, her widowed mother now treats her more like her own life partner than an eligible bachelorette. Desperate to avoid this fate, the former wallflower spends her pin money on a chic makeover and enlists Colin, who she has long held a candle for, to help her find a suitor.

Of course, you can see the twist coming a mile off, but to complain about that would miss the point entirely: Bridgerton is all wish-fulfilment. This is a fantasy of the past powered by infatuation, something that initially involved a headline-grabbing embrace of on-screen bonking. Season three is sparing with the bedroom action, but by the time it does arrive the anticipation is almost unbearable.

Talking of unbearable, there are certain aspects of Bridgerton that make it difficult to love. There’s the stilted, staccato dialogue (for a quick olden days-vibe fix, the script demurs from pretty much all linguistic contractions) which can grate horribly, plus the swelling strings that sign off practically every conversation, suffusing each scene with shallow sentimentality. While the show’s racially diverse cast remains revolutionarily inclusive, Bridgerton is not remotely concerned with the poor souls who facilitate all the luxury and service enjoyed by members of the bon ton.

The things Bridgerton does well, however, it does very, very well. The dynamic between Colin and Penelope – high-status guy falls for apparently undesirable girl – is stock (see everything from Jane Eyre to She’s All That), but here it hasn’t lost one iota of its centuries-old appeal. That’s partly to do with the acting: Coughlan is sensational as a woman who wallows in humiliation but cannot bring herself to relinquish hope, while Ruth Gemmell and Polly Walker’s performances as the meddling mamas of the Bridgerton and Featherington clans give the show its meatiness. And instead of the interminably dull conversations and punishingly slow plot-developments of period dramas of old, Bridgerton is bright and pacy. You can tell from the slickness and relentless fun that this is an American show, but it is extremely well-versed in its theme of smouldering English reserve.

Yet for all the heady, slow-burn romance of these episodes, we know it can’t last. Penelope hasn’t just been getting her kicks by staring at the Bridgerton abode through the drawing-room window. She has been moonlighting as Lady Whistledown, the gossipmonger whose publication spreads scandalous information across the ton’s rarefied circles. Last season, this was uncovered by Pen’s former bestie Eloise Bridgerton after Whistledown published potentially ruinous accusations about her. She has also insulted Colin. How will Penelope keep her alter ego under wraps?

Resolving that issue will be Bridgerton’s biggest challenge to date. For now, we remain engrossed in the marriage mart, a premise that refreshes itself each season and whose appeal is evergreen. As we dive into season three, the show’s delights are still blindingly obvious, its flaws possible to overlook. Just like the besotted couples it follows, Bridgerton’s honeymoon phase is far from over.

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Source: theguardian.com