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Culture > Entertainment

Nicola Coughlan’s Impact: Plus-Size Actresses Finally Shining As Love Interests!

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

For those who live under a rock – and by under a rock I mean haven’t been constantly consuming endless Bridgerton edits on Tiktok since May 16th -, Bridgerton is on the spotlights again, but for some different reasons than the later seasons. 

Divided into two parts, the first aired on May 16th and the last today, the third season of the adaptation of Julia Quinn’s books shows the public the delightful love story of the most charming and funny Bridgerton sibling, Colin (Luke Newton), with the mysterious, sweet and spinster, Penelope Featherington (Nicola Caughlan). 

Luke and Nicola at Bridgerton Season 3 – Part 1 Premiere

Miss Featherington herself is an extremely complex and interesting character, the girl who ton made fun of, the target of jokes, the wallflower, the girl whose mother was certain that was the person who would take care of her when she was old… and most of all, Lady Whistledown, the reason of the rise and fall of some families’ reputation.

Along with this, Penelope was never described in books or shown in movies as a thin girl. Unlike the series, her story is in the fourth book and takes place ten years later than Daphne’s story, while on TV it happens in a sequence. When we first meet Penelope, in The Duke and I, she is described as short, ginger and chubby, and that description sticks until her book, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, when as a twenty-eight-year-old woman, she decides to lose weight. The 2024 show gladly did not follow the 2002 book in this aspect, and kept Penelope as a Plus-Size woman – to give society a message: you do not have to be thin to be loved. 

The actress that plays the character is the iconic Derry Girls’ Claire, Nicola Caughlan, and no one could portray Lady Whistledown as her. She will be discussed later on, but, for now, all you need to know is that Nicola is the actress of the new generation, she is extremely political and kind – two things that are certainly missing nowadays and an example for all of us. She is also a huge reference for fellow theater enthusiasts.

Two days after season two of Bridgerton was released, she posted a memorable text on Instagram:

“This is a picture of me from six years ago when I was a waitress. I remember taking it and joking about how bad my hair looked cos I hadn’t been able to afford to get it done in months. During this time I was so desperate to be acting and unsure that I would ever get to. I was really broke and really disheartened. Just sharing because I’m so deeply grateful of all the things I’ve been lucky enough to do since this picture was taken. I’m in constant disbelief at the good fortune I’ve had, the people I worked with, and the people I’m about it work with. It’s overwhelming to think back but I’m so grateful to all the kindness and support people have shown me and know I never take a moment of this for granted. Follow ya dreams kids ✨” – me, as a theater kid first, human second, felt it like a punch on the stomach. 

But we, as human beings, see the body before the soul. “I’m very lucky to get to use my body to become all these fascinating women. But the prism through which my body is viewed is inescapable.”, wrote Coughlan herself in 2018 for The Guardian after being publicly criticized for being fat – yes… 

The point that needs to dive deeply in is: how can a body cause such uproar? And why a fat body? No negative video about Newton’s body went viral (if they even exist)… it is something to think about.

Besides Bridgerton being known for its gossipy, scandalous, aesthetically pleasing plot and play, it is also known for being sexy and explicit. Within very straightforward sex scenes, Polin (Penelope+Colin) consummating their marriage shouldn’t be different.

The Los Angeles Times’ reporter, Meredith Blake, wrote in an article that she received a call from Coughlan in the beginning of last month saying that the actress saw the scene by herself on a hotel room, and alleged that, “I laughed and cried and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s amazing,”[…] ‘They’re not titillating just to be titillating, even though we hope they are sexy. There’s so much about female pleasure and positive sexual experiences, and we don’t get enough of that onscreen.”

The fact that Bridgerton, whose first and second seasons were the most watched piece of media in Netflix’s history, has spicy scenes with non-standard people is extremely important to TV history, it is an affirmation that not only people who do not have the so-called perfect body exist, but that people like this are the majority of humans. In the end, it is a good thing- Bridgerton must use diverse actors to persuade a more diverse cast. Apart from it, Bridgerton has a really subtle scheme which the hot part focuses a lot on the female pleasure – remember the only hot scene in the second season. 

@todayshow

There were a lot of logistics that went into the iconic #Polin #Bridgerton carriage scene, including an intimacy coordinator and “a bunch of burly dudes shaking [the carriage].” #NicolaCoughlan and #LukeNewton share that they continued the steamy scene even after the director said “cut,” and their nerves about making both fans of the book and the series happy. #TODAYShow

♬ original sound – TODAY Show
Nicola brings up how empowered she felt filming the “carriage” scene.

This might be the author’s perspective according to the content she’s consuming on social media, but people’s reaction to Polin’s story diverges a lot from what people were saying about the Duke and Duchess and the Viscount and Viscountess… while the latter had a “how sexy” reaction from the audience, the former was reacted by “how revolutionary, fat people do feel please afterall…”.

In January 2022, Nicola posted a photo on social media asking fans a favor: “Hello! So just a thing- if you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me. Most people are being nice and not trying to be offensive but I am just one real-life human being and it’s really hard to take the weight of thousands of opinions on how you look being sent directly to you every day. If you have an opinion about me that’s ok, I understand I’m on TV and that people will have things to think and say but I beg you not to send it to me directly”. After all, Coughlan is an awesome actress (if after reading all of this article and is still not convicted, watch this eleven second Derry Girls scene), we should praise and admire her for her talent, her beauty and for her being such an admirable human being and example. 

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The article above was edited by Rafaella Alcici.

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Isa Mucilo

Casper Libero '26

Studying journalism at Cásper Líbero College, I am amused by the culture world- such as movies, books, tv shows and theatre. I aim to inspire girls to develop the same passion I feel for those things by my articles and words.