The Featherington family drinks champagne in Bridgerton
(Netflix)

It’s Easy to Hate on One of ‘Bridgerton’s Most Compelling Characters

Every show needs a character that is easy to hate, and Bridgerton has one of the best: Portia Featherington (Polly Walker). And yet, despite all the mean-spirited, devious, and wicked things she’s done throughout three seasons of Bridgerton, I genuinely believe that Lady Featherington is one of the show’s most compelling characters.

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Before anyone feels the need to rip me to shreds, I’d like to preface the rest of this article by saying that finding a character compelling and gleefully agreeing with every horrible thing they’ve ever said and done are two entirely different things. It is possible to enjoy a character for their role in the story without compromising your own moral values.

That’s how I feel about Portia Featherington. She’s been inexcusably mean toward all three of her daughters, but especially Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), of course, who, until recently, was deemed to be a “spinster,” even by her mother. Lady Featherington is greedy, a bully, two-faced, and a terrifyingly good liar, but she is also incredibly resilient, determined, stubborn, and fiercely, almost overbearingly protective of the young women in her life—though I will readily admit that Portia’s treatment of Marina Thompson could have been, and should have been, much, much better.

When push comes to shove, Lady Featherington will go to the mat for her daughters. And though we may not agree with her methods, she does get things done. She outwitted the new Lord Featherington in Bridgerton season 2, despite his attempts to seduce her and the money troubles she was facing, and she did that all because she is, first and foremost, a mother. She found husbands for both her eldest daughters, and though she’d originally written Penelope off, she has tried to help her youngest secure a match in Bridgerton season 3, in her own misguided, less-than-helpful way. Of course, Portia will unjustly be trying to take all the credit for Penelope’s match with Colin in the second half of Bridgerton season 3, and that might sting, but there was one moment in the official trailer for the next batch of episodes that really struck me.

There’s more to Lady Featherington than meets the eye

When Penelope and Portia are speaking to one another after the news of Penelope’s engagement, Portia says, “Your duty is to cater to Mr. Bridgerton’s dreams.” Penelope asks in return, “What about my dreams?” and Portia gives an uncharacteristically solemn yet, in her eyes, undeniably truthful answer: “Ladies do not have dreams. They have husbands.”

Underneath the scheming exterior, Lady Featherington is actually a rather tragic character. Did she truly never have a dream of her own?

I think, when watching a period piece like Bridgerton—though there are plenty of historical inaccuracies in the show—it’s easy to judge their morals, rules, and decisions within the context of our modern framework. But Portia Featherington does not live in our time. This is a woman who was forced into a clearly loveless marriage and somehow still managed to make a life for herself, outside of her duty to her husband. When he died because of his reckless gambling, she protected Penelope, Phillipa, and Prudence as best she could, shielding them from their financial woes. Of course, trying to entrap “Cousin Jack” into a marriage with Prudence was ridiculous and wrong, but it all comes down to the same thing: she wants her daughters to have a better life than she did, she wants them to be secure and cared for; even if its only incrementally more than she ever was.

My hope is that in this upcoming batch of episodes, we actually get to learn a little bit more about who Portia was before she had her daughters and got married. Who was she without them? Did the scheming and the manipulation come about as a result of her marriage, or was there something else that happened in her life that made her feel she needed to be able to protect herself like that at all times? If Cressida Cowper, who has relentlessly bullied Penelope since Bridgerton season 1 for no good reason, can be given a more sympathetic point of view in Bridgerton season 3, why can’t Portia Featherington? I’m not saying that her past will excuse her present behavior, but it may make us understand her more.

This will likely be the last season in which the Featheringtons have a major role to play. Penelope and Colin will likely still make a few appearances in Bridgerton season 4, but what role will Lady Featherington have? All her daughters will be married, they will be having children of their own, and Portia’s work will be done. Before that happens, though, I hope that Penelope’s mother will be willing to open herself up to her daughter a little more. There’s a scene earlier in season 3 in which it very much seems like she wants to. Penelope is staring out the window, upset about the Ton’s gossip, and there’s a moment in which Portia looks vulnerable—like she wants to say something, but somehow just can’t find the words.

I hope she finds the courage to say it this time around. I, for one, still want to know more about her.

Bridgerton season 3, part 2 will arrive on June 13, only on Netflix.


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El Kuiper
El (she/her) is The Mary Sue's U.K. editor and has been working as a freelance entertainment journalist for over two years, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV (she's seen every episode of Midsomer Murders ever made) and franchises like Marvel and Pokémon. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.