Bridgerton author defends show’s queer romance after fans left disappointed

Bridgerton author Julia Quinn has addressed fan disappointment over plot changes made to her source text for season three of the Netflix adaptation.

In Quinn’s novel, When He Was Wicked, the lead character Francesca Bridgerton (Hannah Dodd) sees her marriage to the Earl of Kilmartin, John Stirling (Victor Alli), disrupted when she experiences chemistry with her husband’s cousin Michael.

For season three of the Netflix series, writers have instead included a queer storyline in the show and introduced Francesca’s love interest as Michaela Stirling (Masali Baduza). While many fans celebrated the gender swap, others have voiced annoyance at changes to Quinn’s novel.

Responding to fan’s concerns in a social media statement, Quinn said viewers should already be aware how committed she is to making the Bridgerton world “more diverse”.

“But switching the gender of a major character is a huge change,” she acknowledged. “So, when [showrunner] Jess Brownell first approached me with the idea of turning Michael into Michaela for the show, I needed more information before conferring my agreement.”

Quinn told fans she trusted Shondaland’s “vision for Bridgerton” but wanted to make sure the third season of the show remained “true to the spirit of the book and of the characters”.

The author said she discussed changes to Francesca’s story with the Bridgerton showrunner, Jess Brownell, and emphasised the significance of “Francesca’s abiding love for John be shown on screen”.

“I felt that if I didn’t show how deeply she loved John, and how deeply Michael, his cousin, also loved him, then their feelings of guilt at falling in love with each other after John’s death made no sense,” she explained.

“I didn’t want to just tell the reader that they loved him. I wanted the reader to feel it.”

Quinn added: “I’m confident now that when Francesca has her Bridgerton season, it will be the most emotional and heart-wrenching story of the show, just like When He Was Wicked has always been the true tear-jerker of the Bridgerton book series.”

The author signed off: “I ask that you grant me and the Shondaland team some faith as we move forward. I think we are going to end up with two stories, one on page and one on screen, and they will both be beautiful and moving.”

Hannah Dodd,  Victor Alli,  Masali Baduza in ‘Bridgerton’ (Netflix)
Hannah Dodd, Victor Alli, Masali Baduza in ‘Bridgerton’ (Netflix)

Brownell, who came to Quinn with the idea of the gender swap change, took over from Chris Van Dusen as Bridgerton’s showrunner for season three and has repeatedly made clear her passion for delivering more LGBTQ+ representation on the show.

Ahead of season three’s release, she told Pride: “I want to see more queer joy on my screens and that was definitely a priority for me when I stepped into the showrunner role. How exactly that plays out over this season and the next couple seasons, I can’t say specifically, but I will say I’m excited for fans to see that.”

Similarly, Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington in the series, revealed she’s “desperate” for more queer storylines on the show. Coughlan noted Bridgerton has already created an extremely “diverse” imagining of regency London, adding there’s “so much space” for “queer love stories” on the show.

“I think all love stories deserve to be celebrated,” she said.