"Not all love has to be the same": Lessons for "Bridgerton's" matriarch who is "testing the waters"

Ruth Gemmell discusses Violet's attitude toward Francesca, romantic prospects and real hobby (not needlework!)

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published June 21, 2024 2:00PM (EDT)

Will Tilston as Gregory Bridgerton, Florence Hunt as Hyacinth Bridgerton, Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Emma Naomi as Alice Mondrich and Martins Imhangbe as Will Mondrich in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)
Will Tilston as Gregory Bridgerton, Florence Hunt as Hyacinth Bridgerton, Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Emma Naomi as Alice Mondrich and Martins Imhangbe as Will Mondrich in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)

Lady Violet Bridgerton stands at the foot of the main staircase in her family home, wearing a shimmering dress whose color matches her name. Poised, elegant, and bejeweled in diamonds, Violet is prepared to spend her evening doing what "Bridgerton" characters do best: Attend a ball.

Her son, however, is not. 

"She can't get a handle on Francesca."

Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) stands before his mother in a state of disarray. "Was it you I heard lumbering in the hallway late last night?" Violet asks. Colin is missing an overcoat, his shirt is rumpled, and he's proclaimed his "bottle-weary" state has precluded him from attending the festivities. But Violet knows better.

"It's like she knows everything before them [her children]," says Ruth Gemmell, who portrays the Dowager Viscountess and matriarch of a brood of eight on Netflix's massively popular series set in Regency era England. Colin is vexed by his romantic feelings for Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan), a close family friend and, unbeknownst to the 'Ton, the woman behind the curtain: the gossip scribe, Lady Whistledown. 

"I am proud of your sensitivity," Violet tells her son. "But living to please others? I imagine it can be wearying at times. Painful, perhaps. So I do not blame you for putting on armor lately. But you must be careful that the armor does not rust and set so that you might never be able to take it off."

The "will they/won't they" tension between Colin and Penelope defines the latest season's action and conflict. For Violet, their longstanding friendship coming to intimate fruition marks another successful pairing for a Bridgerton scion — in an era wholly defined by courtship and marriage prospects, much of a society mother's duty was to ensure that their children are securely wed. Gemmell sees Violet's role as one of quiet and gentle guidance.

"She just needs to kind of move them in the direction until they wake up and realize themselves," Gemmell tells Salon.

Though "Bridgerton" often places considerable focus on the 'Ton's most eligible young men and women, this season gestures toward the possibility of a second turn at romance for Violet with the arrival of Lord Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis). The two share immediate chemistry, much to the chagrin of his sister and Violet's close friend, Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Andoh). Violet and Lord Marcus' flirtation is subtle and slow — a mature progression that both reflects their age and is a far cry from Bridgerton's explicit lovemaking scenes for the show's younger characters. It also builds upon a revelation made in "Bridgerton"'s prequel spinoff, "Queen Charlotte," that Violet's garden is in bloom, signaling a budding interest in male affection after the death of her husband more than a decade prior. 

Check out the full interview, in which Gemmell elaborates on Violet's role as a mother, matchmaker and dowager set to potentially return to the dating scene.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

I come from a large family — I'm the oldest of five siblings. My own mom was one of nine, and so I've always grown up in and around big families. Your character has eight children. I have this affection for Violet Bridgerton and what she has to go through with eight kids, having seen my mom go through it firsthand and as the oldest specifically. I wanted to start first with how she's dealing with Colin. What does she think of his engagement with Penelope?

"Whatever the Queen would say, I think [Violet] would believe."

I think she's over the moon, absolutely over the moon. In the books, she's always making her sons go and dance with the wallflower Penelope. So I think she has an inkling that one day Penelope will be part of the family, or at least that's her hankering, I think. And there's a really lovely moment — I think it was the first scene that I did with Luke, I think — and it's in one of the balls when he's asking his mother about what she hopes for Francesca [Hannah Dodd]. And of course, the answers are the same. It's love, passion and friendship. And then she realizes that the object of it is not about Francesca at all — it's about him and that the object of his desire is, in fact, Penelope.

And I think there's a moment there that she is really lovely to clock and then realize that from this moment on, she knows exactly how to navigate him. Because the way she steers all her children — it's like she knows everything before them. So she just needs to kind of move them in the direction until they wake up and realize themselves.

I'm the youngest of five. So I know how those dynamics of a large family operate.

BridgertonRuth Gemmell as Violet Bridgerton, Victor Alli as John Stirling and Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)I also wanted to ask about Violet's feelings about Francesca. To me, Francesca's engagement to John Stirling (Victor Alli) seemed somewhat more subdued, even though they seem like a well-suited pair. How do you read her attitude toward that match?

I think she respects it. I think she thinks he's a lovely man. But what Violet has always wanted for her children was the something that she had, and she knows it's achievable. And she can't get a handle on Francesca. She can't understand why Francesca isn't interested in the same way. It'll be interesting to see where we go with Francesca's story, because you could say that Violet had a point. But on the other hand, Francesca is teaching her something: that not all love has to be the same, that not all love has to be a thunderbolt, that something that is a slow burn can be equally as valid and beautiful. But I think she struggles with it, definitely, because she worries that it won't be enough at some point, I think.

Do you feel that Violet understands Francesca fully? Eight kids are a lot to keep up with as they as they mature, especially, and begin to engage in intimate relationships. Francesca does seem to have kept more to herself than the others.

Yeah, she's definitely the quiet one. She's definitely the quiet one. And the way we depicted that, I guess, in these last previous two series is that she's always away — going to stay with relatives, doing things on her own, even when she is always the quiet one. And that's something that she's relished, but also kind of is unfathomable to her [Violet] because the others are all so loud.

Yeah, that's very true. Even having this conversation is just making me think of, like, the different personality types between my siblings and I. In many ways, we couldn't be more night and day from each other, even though I think we all kind of amalgamate around this same shared family identity. 

I often used to think that with me and my siblings, none of us look like each other, but we all look like our parents.

Yeah, I feel the same way. And it's so disorienting when people say, "Oh, you look like your sister," or "You look like your brother." And you never see it. But everyone else does.

While this series is sort of a fantasy version of Regency England, the Queen's (Golda Rosheuvel) interest in matchmaking and socializing does, I think, seem rather over the top. How much does Violet take into account the Queen's opinion?

I think she takes it to heart quite a lot. I think if given the period of time and where we are with this 'Ton, I think royalty is everything to them. It sort of sets the order of the day in a way. So whatever the Queen would say, I think she would believe. And unfortunately, my children seem to piss her off quite a lot (laughs). They always go one way with the Queen and then their own way. And that's another reason why she's nervous with Francesca about going to the Queen, because yet again, the Queen chose somebody for her, and she's chosen somebody else.

But yes, I think where that social standing is, I think I think the royal household is something to revere.

At the end of "Queen Charlotte," we find out that Violet's garden is in bloom. The scene is sweet and funny at the same time as Violet is sort of trying to communicate her desires to Lady Danbury without saying it outright. What was it like to shoot that scene?

A lot of fun, a lot of fun. I adore Adjoa, and we've been working together now — I think I didn't know her before I knew of her. I'd never worked with her before.  And we've been working together on this for the past five years. So we have a shorthand now and we really relish our scenes together because we get to play. So, yeah, that was a lot of fun.

BridgertonDaniel Francis as Marcus Anderson in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)We see Violet make what seems to be a few attempts at flirting already with Lord Marcus. Do you feel that Violet is ready for another relationship or is she just sort of testing the waters of what romance could feel like?

I would probably say she's testing the waters. I think she's going to be very tentative with this because I think her children mean everything to her. And I think her friendship with Lady Danbury is also everything to her. And she's already said, I think, that no man will come between them. So I think she's enjoying feeling alive again. And I think she's surprised about feeling alive again. But I think she would be quite nervous. Yeah, we'll see.

Widows and widowers, especially those who already have children, have a bit more freedom in Regency England than those who have never married. Do you think it's crossed Violet's mind to sort of take advantage of that romantically or otherwise?

"If she does, she'll be bloody secretive about it."

That's quite difficult to answer because in the book, of course, she never does. In the books, she doesn't quite deliberately because no one has ever kind of matched up to Edmund. And in fact, I think there is a conversation possibly in a later book between Francesca and her where — I can't remember, one of my daughters — they have a conversation and the daughter asks why I never took her love, and she said, "No one ever really – I just didn't, wasn't interested."

So I'm not sure about taking advantage of the situation. I think she's heard of people who do. I think she's aware of that, but I think she would be, I think she'd be nervous. I think social standing to them all is something that they all hold dear. But, you know, if she does, she'll be bloody secretive about it.

I would concur. Like the series "Queen Charlotte," how open would you be to see a prequel spinoff for Violet? We sort of started her story in "Queen Charlotte," but we didn't see much of her relationship with Edmund, actually.

No, I don't know. I think that's entirely in their hands, really. We saw a little bit of Edmund and how his loss affected her in Season 2 of "Bridgerton." So we've seen bits and pieces. There is a sort of a prequel in — I think it's the very final book that Julia Quinn wrote, which sort of documents her as a young girl when she meets Edmund and when they're first married and things like that. It's there, but I think that's in somebody else's hands.

Now that Kate (Simone Ashley) is stepping up with her Viscountess duties and there's at least one grandchild on the way, how is Violet feeling about what her role is in the future?

It's probably going to be — I think she absolutely believes in Kate. I think she in some respects relishes letting go. I think on another standard, that's all she's ever done for many, many years. And I think it's a slow process to realization that she doesn't, she can't have the same . . . But there was a very funny moment that Simone and I kept giggling about. There's a scene where Penelope faints, and we both ran out of the room calling for Mrs. Wilson [Geraldine Alexander] at the same time, trying to be the head of the house. So that was quite entertaining.

Have you ever thought about if Violet has any hobbies or interests outside of her children? After all, that is sort of her expected role in society, but I was curious to know if you thought of her outside of that.

Well she does a lot of bloody needlework. She's always sewing something, doing some kind of pattern and you should see how I butcher it. It's always really beautiful — a lovely little flower — and then I'm always on the same spot and it looks like hell by the time we finish. There's that.

I think Adjoa and I decided she drinks quite a lot (laughs.) I think there is somewhere in the books when she's exacerbated by one of them sort of drinking. Not heavily, but you know, it's more like that really. I've decided she just goes out buying diamonds. Maybe she's a shopaholic.

Who would you say tends to be the biggest jokester on set and who do you have the greatest rapport with?

Jonny [Bailey] is a real prankster and so is Eloise [Claudia Jessie]. Yeah, I love those family scenes. I think they're great. I love those kids. I probably have my most significant scenes on the whole with Adjoa. I suppose I do sometimes have very kind of poignant moments with whoever's falling in love at the time. So they're always nice to have, but yeah, we all joke around quite a lot actually, especially in those big ball scenes, they go on for days. Honestly, it can be hell and it can be heaven at the same time because it's often when we get to see each other and there's a lot of sort of messing around and I think we are the bane of the crew's life on those days. But that's probably why we're that giddy, because they go on for days.

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton StoryRuth Gemmell as Violet Bridgerton and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Agatha Danbury in "Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story" (Nick Wall/Netflix)Freedom means different things to different women in "Bridgerton." What do you think that it means to Violet?

I think one of the reasons that she is so adamant that her children marry for love is that with love comes respect, and if there's respect in the marriage, then her daughters will be safe and happy and that whoever her sons marry will have the same respect and be safe. I think, because it's such a patriarchal society, I think that form of freedom is everything to Violet.

Yeah, and I think even in the scenes we do see of Violet and Edmund, that sort of value is reflected. Do you feel the same way?

Yeah, I think I do, yeah. She's certainly bringing up those children the way he would have wanted as well.

How would you say that you define freedom for yourself?

Well, funnily enough, probably similar: respect I think. I think equality. It's really hard to answer for yourself.

Would you say that playing Violet has influenced your definition of freedom? Or altered it?

I think the way I approach a character is to find something that I can identify with. So in the same way that freedom can — when I say respect and equality, part of that encompasses being heard, I guess.  And even for characters that are nothing like Violet, who are evil.  I mean, most of the time I used to play really s**t mothers or murderers. So it would be kind of a similar sort of thing. Someone who wants to be heard; there is a freedom in that. Now, it's not necessarily respectful, but there is a freedom in being heard.

All episodes of "Bridgerton" are streaming on Netflix.


By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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