'Bridgerton's' Nicola Coughlan and Simone Ashley Reflect on Penelope and Kate's Complicated Choices in Season 2

The actors discuss second season love triangles and that pesky Lady Whistledown secret, as well as hopes for Season 3.
by Lauren Piester — 

From left to right: Nicola Coughlan and Simone Ashley in 'Bridgerton' Season 2


Warning: This story contains spoilers for Season 2 of Bridgerton, streaming now on Netflix. Read at your own risk!

At long last, the social season has begun again. 

Bridgerton has premiered its second season on Netflix, with new balls to attend and a new love story to tell. This time, the Duke (Regé-Jean Page) is off doing business while Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) is the wiser and older, raising her toddler and offering advice to her emotionally stunted brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who has finally decided to take a wife. 

That news sent ripples through the town, but only one woman caught the Viscount's eye: Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), who just arrived from Bombay to find her a husband. Unfortunately, her older sister Kate (Simone Ashley) doesn't think the romance-averse Anthony is such a great match for her sister, which gets even more complicated when she and Anthony fall in love instead. Those complications practically triple when Anthony gets engaged to Edwina anyway and creates the ultimate scandal for the Bridgerton family. Of course, Anthony ends up married to the correct Sharma in the end, but not before Kate is confronted with all the ways she broke her sister's heart in an effort to protect her, causing a myriad of problems in the process. 

Edwina has every right to be as angry as she is when she realizes what's going on, but Ashley and Bailey both wanted to make sure that despite the fact that Anthony and Edwina almost actually get married, his love story with Kate doesn't feel like a total betrayal. 

"Jonny and I actually had a conversation about this, and I think what's so amazing about Kate and Anthony is they're very similar because they both hold a lot of responsibility towards their family," Ashley tells Metacritic. "They both have one job, and that's to protect their family — for him to marry a viscountess, for her to protect her sister and to make sure she's taken care of. They both mess up that one job, so they both have that in common, and they both see that in one another. It takes one to know one. And they both actually feel safe in each other's mistakes in that sense, and they don't judge each other." 

Kate now has her happy ending and gets to go on to offer advice to any incoming Bridgerton spouses, but another future leading lady's story has barely started. Throughout the season, the mystery of Lady Whistledown's identity is driving both Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) crazy, making things extra complicated for the Lady herself, Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan). By the end of the season, after Penelope tries to protect Eloise by revealing all her current secrets and Eloise finds out the truth, their friendship has imploded. Lady Whistledown decides to thrive, but that duo may never recover. 

While Kate and Penelope's stories took very different turns this season, they are both women who, in some viewers' eyes, may have crept a bit too close to some irredeemable actions. Kate's lies caused a scandal and broke her sister's heart, and Penelope's lies have torn apart a friendship at the very least, not to mention the effects Whistledown has had on all of London. 

Below, Coughlan talks to Metacritic about where things went wrong for Penelope, how she can make them right, and what we can hopefully look forward to when Penelope gets her moment to shine. 

I spent all season wanting to yell at Penelope to tell Eloise about Lady Whistledown. Why do you think she felt like she couldn't tell her? 

It's so stressful, isn't it? I think Penelope's someone who, for my money, is so used to keeping secrets. I think that's what Lady Whistledown was born out of — her constantly biting her tongue and not sharing how she really felt, and that being her release. I also think a big part of it is that Lady Whistledown was [also] born out of a want to impress Eloise because Eloise is so outspoken. She's so brave in a way Penelope can't be, so I think there's a certain level of arrogance to her this time. It makes sense, because she's become this young woman in London who everyone's obsessed with, but they don't know it's her. So she keeps telling Eloise, "Don't you think Whistledown is great? Is she still not a source of amusement?" I think it's one of the most important things of her life, and she wants Eloise to love it, so I think she knows that once she takes one card out, the house will come tumbling down. 

In the book, it's Colin (Luke Newton) who finds out first. How do you think that change is going to affect what happens next? 

That's the thing about this series. We didn't know it was going to be revealed [to Eloise] at the end of this season. We didn't even know it was going to be revealed [to the audience] at the end of Season 1! But I think it makes sense because in the books, you see little bits of Penelope, you see little bits of Eloise, but we spend so much more time with them in the show. In the books, Penelope has been keeping this secret for 10 years! There definitely would have been so many conversations about who they think Whistledown is, and Eloise is such a curious individual. Claudia and I used to always talk about like, "Oh God, when Eloise finds out, it's going to be absolutely terrible. It's going to be earth-shatteringly bad." I don't know anything about Season 3 really, so I don't know when they're planning to reveal it to Colin, but I feel like he's going to be less annoyed than Eloise, because I feel like Penelope has taken advantage of Eloise in this situation to an extent, because Eloise is her main source of information. I feel like Colin isn't going to be like, "Oh, that's cool, don't worry," but I don't think he's gonna be as serious as Eloise rightfully is. 

What was it like for you this season, playing the character knowing the audience knows she's Lady Whistledown? 

I really loved it. I think it's funny 'cause I know a lot of the book fans were like, "Why did they do that at the end of Season 1?" But for my money, when there's a hidden identity in a show, it's never satisfying if you drag it out for a long time and then reveal it. It always ends up being a letdown. So, I think the fun of it in this season is that you get to then go along on this secret journey with Penelope. The audience is in on the secrets and carrying them with her, so they get the weight of the stress she's under, and they can see her gathering information and see her deceiving people. So, I loved playing it, and finding out that she had this Irish alter ego who is sort of tricksy and sneaking around in carriages at night, all that stuff was joyful. 

Did you love that moment of getting to be Irish? 

It was funny. In the script, it said, "Penelope speaks in a perfect Irish accent," and I was like, "OK, I got that one, no problem." 

So, tell me about Penelope beyond Lady Whistledown. Are you excited to delve more into who she is outside of that secret identity? 

I think she's still figuring out who she is. I think this season is a funny juxtaposition of someone who is still that shy wallflower. I always say to people that to me, she's just a writer. She's someone who is so shy and quiet in person but then can write these wild words, and can be really funny and acerbic and all of these things, but it's just not something that she's really able to embody in person yet. I think the two worlds of Penelope and Whistledown met, in a sense, in her this season, but in a way of going, "God, I am that girl, I'm the one everyone's obsessed with." So it's kind of like a shy person with a slight arrogance, which is such an interesting mix, but I think she needs to find another way of valuing herself. Also, she needs to realize she can't lie to the people she loves. And the things she says to Eloise in that argument are pretty damn terrible, so I think she's got to really reflect on that and where that came from and all that kind of stuff. I also think there's a side to her that she's got to acknowledge that's a little more like her family than she thinks she is, especially her mother. I think there's a lot of Portia Featherington in Penelope. 

Penelope really did say some awful things to Eloise. Do you think they can reconcile? 

They better! They really better, because otherwise I will be completely heartbroken and I don't relish the thought of going into a new season and not having scenes with Claudia. I'll just go into the writers room and be like, "Hey, what if they were just like, 'Oh that was silly! Let's make up! Let's go to the marketplace!'" But I know that doesn't happen. I think there's such a deep love there, and when you have really deep friendships that are like siblings, you do have those kinds of arguments, and words from someone you love cut a million times deeper than words from someone you hate. So I think friendships have ups and downs and I need to believe they'll be friends again. Otherwise I don't know what I'll do! I'll be very sad. 

What do you think it will take? 

I think Penelope needs to really apologize, but also I think it's gonna be difficult for her. She doesn't want to stop Whistledown because Whistledown is her life blood, but she really loves writing about the Bridgertons. I don't know. There's a part of me that just thinks I'm so glad I don't have to write this. I just look at the script and it's all figured out for her. If I was in this situation, I'd be like, "Oh, this is pretty bad."

There were some really great scenes with Colin this season, even though he's still being dumb. What do you see for them in the future? 

I ship them really hard, I really do. I watched the scene of Colin's return with my family and my mum and my sister were clutching their hearts. It is just so cute. Luke and I joked that this is Colin's emo season, like he's all up in his feelings about Marina (Ruby Barker) and he's sort of like gap year Colin, and he's like, "Yeah, I've been to Greece." He still doesn't see her in that way. He thinks this is just my fun penpal friend, where I think she's sort of deluded herself a little bit, going "This is really something!" He's not there yet, but I think that harsh thing he says at the end of the season [about not marrying her] will ultimately be good for them because she needs to take him down off the pedestal she's built for him. She just thinks he's too perfect, and he's not. They've got to be more on a level if they could ever see eye to eye and actually become partners. But yeah, I want it to happen so badly, of course. 

Do you have any hopes for when you get your moment to fall in love on the show? 

I'm excited for the blue dresses, which I'm taking directly from the books. No one's confirmed to me otherwise, but I think I've done my time in the yellow. It's funny, because at the beginning, I was like, "Oh yellow is lovely." And then I became that part of Penelope where I'm like, "Oh God, another yellow dress!"

Get to know Simone Ashley:
Prior to joining the cast of Bridgerton, Ashley was best known for her work on Netflix's other popular British drama, Sex Education (Metascore: 81). However, she also appeared in Season 3 of Broadchurch (84), guest-starred on C.B. Strike (59) and Guilt (52), and starred in the limited series The Sister.

Get to know Nicola Coughlan:
Coughlan also stars on Derry Girls and previously starred on Harlots (Metascore: 73). She has also done a lot of voice acting, including in English versions of Simsala Grimm titles and a Thor animated film.