*Warning: This article contains spoilers for Bridgerton season 3 part 1.*


Bridgerton is back, and so is Penelope’s alter ego, Lady Whistledown, whose gossip column is still gloriously delivered by screen icon Julie Andrews.

The show’s third run may focus on Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin’s (Luke Newton) grand romantic adventure, but Colin’s younger sister, Francesca (now played by Hannah Dodd), is the breakout star of the season.

Even Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) herself agrees.

Across just four episodes, Dodd has brought to life an intriguing, unyielding version of the character. And, despite its early stages, the blossoming of Francesca’s very own fairy tale deserves just as much attention as Penelope’s – if not more.

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In author Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books, the character is the focus of the sixth story, When He Was Wicked, following her second chance at love as a widow. In contrast, Francesca's first love story is a quieter one - but it’s far from dull.

After playing a sassy, satirical rendition of the Funeral March ahead of her presentation in episode 1, Francesca follows the show’s tradition of attempting to secure a husband - though she isn’t necessarily holding out for true love as her mother, Lady Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), hopes.

Genevieve Delacroix, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in costume for Bridgerton season 3.
Penelope undergoes a wardrobe makeover in pursuit of a husband.

Happily, Francesca looks to have found love regardless – and even better, she does so only by being herself.

As Penelope gives in to societal pressures, changing her wardrobe and forcing herself to go along with the interests of potential suitors, Francesca continues playing her beloved piano, rolling her eyes as she’s "inspected" by the gentlemen of the Ton, and, above all, seeking solitude.

This puts her in the orbit of John Stirling (Victor Alli), who joins her for some peace and quiet outside as the Ton dances the night away. Francesca eyes him with a surprised smile, and when John calls for Francesca at home, the pair humorously baffle her relatives as they enjoy more companionable silence.

An awkward encounter sees Francesca discuss her music taste, and when she criticises one composition for its pace, John suddenly rushes away. At the next ball, he presents her with a scroll containing a revised music score of the same song, and Francesca is delighted.

She immediately requests to leave, and John doesn’t seem the least bit offended by her abruptness, the smile on her face enough to prove he’s made the right call.

And so, just as Penelope and Colin get passionate in a carriage, a giddy Francesca sits at her piano and beams as she plays John’s composition.

It’s a scene which sits just as powerfully as Bridgerton’s cliffhanger. As enthralling as Colin’s love declaration is, John’s gesture, and Francesca’s reaction, should not be overlooked.

Why? Well, while leading man Colin remains unaware of Penelope’s secret identity, his earlier arrogance isn’t forgotten in the eyes of the viewer. Meanwhile, it doesn’t take an epiphany for the humble John to know who, and what, he wants.

Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton and Florence Hunt as Hyacinth Bridgerton in Bridgerton standing in the middle of the Bridgerton living room, all wearing blue dresses.
Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton and Florence Hunt as Hyacinth Bridgerton in Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix

As for Francesca, there is no scandal to speak of. In fact, unlike the other debutantes, she prefers to avoid attracting attention altogether until she's noticed by John.

Of course, television drama thrives on scandal, as does Whistledown, but we don’t need to see it in every corner.

Francesca and John's is a simple tale about acceptance and appreciation, both of which John holds for Francesca from the moment they meet.

She returns the sentiment, and this lack of complexity makes their bond that much more compelling, without secrecy or the tiresome trope of the character who undergoes a makeover to impress the person they truly want to be with.

Francesca bypasses the chaos, and doesn’t sacrifice the things she embraces most in life. This very attribute is exactly what draws Queen Charlotte to Francesca when she catches her at the piano instead of mingling at the ball, with the latter’s refusal to conform mirroring the young monarch’s spin-off story.

Penelope and Colin may have been given the complex narrative, the conflict and even the sex scenes, but Francesca and John’s connection feels all the more special for its gentler delivery and lack of fanfare, making it the superior love story of the season.

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Bridgerton season 3 part 1 is now available to stream on Netflix, part 2 will then be released on Thursday 13th June. Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now on Netflix. You can buy the Bridgerton book series on Amazon.


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