The very unromantic story behind Penelope’s makeover in Bridgerton.

If you're a true romantic comedy fan then you'll know that the biggest make or break moment in the story isn't the couple's meet-cute or even their first kiss.

It's the makeover scene.

The moment when a woman's life is entirely changed for the better thanks to some new clothes, a bouncy blow-dry, some fancy makeup and access to the funds of a slightly problematic man in place of a fairy godmother.

When I watched Pretty Woman for the first time as a child, I was unaware of the power imbalance between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere due to her illegal sex work and completely swept away with her new wardrobe and newfound ability to fire back at snooty saleswomen. 

When Rachael Leigh Cook's Laney Boggs took off her glasses and donned a red mini dress before slowly descending a staircase in She's All That, it felt like teen cinema had been forever changed.

Sandra Bullock's FBI agent Gracie Hart slowly strutting out of a building that had been taken over to transform her to the tune of 'Mustang Sally' in Miss Congeniality is the moment she truly should have won an Oscar for.

And while Anne Hathaway has been lauded for dramatic acting abilities over the years, those moments do not hold a candle to her ability to pull off a flawless makeover scene. Whether it's a lush coat montage in the streets of New York for The Devil Wears Prada or a cinematic straight hair reveal in The Princess Diaries, a large chunk of Hollywood has been built on the idea that Hathaway is ugly until outside forces step in.

So popular have the makeover scenes in romantic comedies become over the years that studios started to build them into movies in a larger way simply due to their marketing gold. The team behind Suddenly 30 were even asked to add a makeover scene into the already finished script, just so they could shape the movie's trailer around it. 


Listen to the author's interview with Nicola Coughlin, which didn't go to plan on The Spill.  

So, it comes as no surprise that season three of Bridgeton on Netflix, which centers on the dashing Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newron) falling for the 'wallflower' Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlin), contains a makeover scene, after showrunner Jess Brownell confirmed the style of this new season is inspired by iconic rom-coms. 

Season three is based on the fourth novel in the Julia Quinn penned book series, entitled Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which just like TV series, chronicles Penelope's makeover.

But within the pages of the novel, her makeover is more hooked on her body which is frequently described as "round" and "plump" with a strong emphasis on her weight loss in order to snag a husband. In the novel, Quinn writes "It helped that she'd lost nearly two stone and could now call herself 'pleasantly rounded' rather than 'a hideous pudge'," when describing the character.

In season three, the Bridgerton team decided to shelve the weight loss storyline around Penelope and instead have her makeover centred on hair, clothes and makeup.

Actress Nicola Coughlin, as a longtime rom-com fan who watched When Harry Met Sally over and over again in preparation for stepping into the lead role in season three, was surprised when showrunner Jess Brownell first told her about how Penelope's makeover would play out. 


Even though her season was hooked on the idea of a classic 'friends to lovers' rom-com trope, the story around her makeover was designed to be quite anti-rom-com.

Speaking to Mamamia, the actress explained that Penelope enters the first ball of the season looking more traditionally beautiful, casting aside her old yellow dresses for a breathtaking green gown, allowing her normally tight curls to fall in glamourous waves and applying some glossy new beauty products. 

She has the tried and true rom-com moment of descending a staircase to debut her new look, with every person in the room turning to her in awe and delight, drinking in her new appearance.

Then she proceeds to have the worst night of her life. 

Nicola Coughlin and Jessica Madsen in Bridgerton season three. Image: Netflix. 


According to Coughlin, the show leaned heavily into this storyline, a moment where Penelope's reveal is followed by men turning away from her and having her dress ripped. 

This was to show that rom-coms are lying —  becoming more 'beautiful' does not mean that your life is automatically fixed. 

"It's funny because when Jess first spoke to Luke and I about this season, one of the first things she said to me was that Penelope gets this makeover where she'll look really different but she won't be a changed person," Nicola explained. 

"The lesson is that she has to learn to love herself and grow her inner confidence," she continued. "So it doesn't really matter what she looks like. She immediately tries to flirt with men after her makeover and she finds she absolutely can't. 

"So I really loved all the rom-com elements in this season. But I think what I love most about her transformation is how gradual it is, and how internal it is. It's all about her loving herself."

Bridgerton season 3 part one (which includes episodes 1-4) is now streaming. Part two premiers June 13 only on Netflix.

Laura Brodnik is Mamamia's Head of Entertainment and host of The Spill podcast. You can follow her on Instagram here for more entertainment news and recommendations.

Feature Image: Netflix.

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