Simmering secrets. Guffaw-worthy gossip. Riveting romance.
That’s right: “Bridgerton” is back for Season 2 (albeit without Regé-Jean Page) and ready to whisk you away to 19th century Regency era England once more – with the voice of Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews) narrating the way.
Mirroring Julia Quinn’s books, this sophomore outing of the Shonda Rhimes-produced Netflix hit (streaming Friday) focuses on eldest Bridgerton sibling Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and his quest for a wife. On paper, new society entrant Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran) makes a perfect choice for the erstwhile lothario. But will her sister Kate (Simone Ashley) interfere, and accidentally capture Anthony’s heart herself?
“The main narrative arc of this season is this question of head versus heart, or duty versus love, and which one wins,” says creator Chris Van Dusen.
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The series’ penchant for happy, closed-ended love stories should hint where the story goes. “You see (Anthony and Kate) go toe to toe throughout the season, and the frustration that you feel between the two of them – it’s palpable. I’ve described them as magnets before, and you see that they truly are drawn to each other,” Van Dusen says.
“She communicates with him on a level that I don’t think he’s ever had before,” Ashley says. “They both mirror each other in that way. They both hold a lot of duty and responsibility. And maybe no one’s really asked what it is that they really want, until they met each other.”
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But that’s just one of many twists and turns this season. Now that viewers know Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) has been harboring the series’ biggest secret – she is anonymous gossip columnist Lady Whistledown – we learn exactly how she juggles her side hustle. And it’s not for the faint of heart.
“I feel like her life is just a minefield,” Coughlan says. “If I were her, I could never handle that level of stress.”
It involves sneaking out of her high-society life and making frequent trips to a print shop, where – to obscure her identity – she dons less opulent garb and sports an Irish lilt. (It’s an easy feat for Coughlan, who’s Irish).
“I always think of it as her drag persona, that she can have some more confidence in that when she’s dressed up in that way and has that voice on,” Coughlan says. “It’s such a complex character. There’s a million different sides to her.”
Those sides unravel throughout the season, as Penelope navigates writing, an unappreciative family, her adoration for Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and her friendship with best pal (and Colin’s sister) Eloise (Claudia Jessie), who takes a risk escaping high society to watch political debates in town.
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“She’s like, ‘look at all of these amazing people and these thinkers, (who are) all talking about things other than who was seen in the drawing room with someone else,'” Jessie says.
Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) remains as glued as ever to Lady Whistledown’s writings, and reveals why: A crown holds plenty of weight – but so does a must-read newsletter.
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“In this era, that was what was starting to happen,” says Rosheuvel. “People were starting to write things down. It was becoming currency.”
Penelope and Eloise have plenty in common with Kate, whose family arrives from India in the season premiere. “What I loved about (Kate) was just how opinionated she was, how she wasn’t afraid to maybe be disliked, to be controversial,” Ashley says. “She’s a rebel. Her intelligence is incredibly sexy.”
Some fans may be disappointed by the less frequent sex scenes this season, at least compared with the sheer number between Daphne (Phoebe Dyvenor) and Simon (Page) last season. “We never do a sex scene for the sake of doing a sex scene, and we never will,” Van Dusen says. “All of the intimate scenes have a larger purpose. That was true for Season 1. It’s definitely true for Season 2.”
What’s also true for Season 2? Modern music choices. Producers once again nestle in needle drops of orchestral pop song covers. Season 1 gifted viewers Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” and Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”; new episodes bask in a haunting, heartbreaking version of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”
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Edwina encourages Kate and Anthony to dance together at a ball, hoping Kate will approve of her and Anthony’s relationship. As “Dancing On My Own” plays, the rendezvous turns into yet another of Kate and Anthony’s secretive will-they-won’t-they scenes, with all of high society watching. Van Dusen calls it “a transcendent moment.”
“It’s the kind of song that makes you lean into your screen, and it’s full of angst and it’s bittersweet and it’s stirring,” Van Dusen says.
“It was poetry,” Ashley says. “Everything had a meaning to it. We focused on the thoughts of being two planets and kind of orbiting around each other.”
Well, at least one person didn’t find the moment poetic.
“That (song) was something that I wanted for Penelope’s season, and I was livid,” Coughlan fumed jokingly (we think). “I have a playlist, and that was the first thing on it. And I was like, ‘they did not.'”
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