Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

By this point it’s well enough known that the original novel on which this film is based took its inspiration from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (though not so much by me, who had to be apprised of this fact by my wife upon expressing surprise at the similarity in both name and casting between Colin Firth here and in the BBC TV adaption of said Austen novel some years earlier). Bridget Jones is a nice middle-class girl who lives in an attractive area (in this case a scrubbed-up London, above a pub in Borough Market, rather than the countryside) with a group of dedicated single friends (rather than sisters), who dallies with chaps of much greater income.

In this sense, some of the class-conscious social-climbing drama is retained from the Austen original, while those awkward rituals of social mixing set to elaborate dances are here replaced by society soirées and press launches. It is all very nicely transposed to a modern setting, and Elizabeth Bennet/Bridget Jones (played by Renée Zellweger) now has a largely thankless job in a publishing company, which suits the film’s impression of the vapidity of the media.

I suppose the problem for me is in creating a modern story of a woman in search of a man, when there is no corresponding sense that without one her family will be in penury. I suppose it’s a commentary on the way that while women’s rights and options in life have moved on in two hundred years, the messages provided by the media have changed little, though if so it’s not always very clear. She has a professional job at which she is apparently competent, though the film is more interested in those times when she makes a fool of herself (for obvious comic reasons). She does not need either her boss Daniel (Hugh Grant) or the stand-offish Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) and yet it is on these men she obsesses, and whose interest in her define her life and her story.

Of course, the story is presented as her diary, so it is very much one for which she is setting the narrative tone. Many moments are played as if scenes from big Hollywood films, with Bridget’s requisite triumphs and humiliations shot in a non-naturalistic style (it’s a precarious line separating it from Ally McBeal, a TV show I detested but which pursued a similar aesthetic, though I think the film is successful). So this is her story, and yet even if it’s one in which she seems to be beholden to all the traps of women’s magazines (a careful detailing of her diet, smoking habit, and ploys to attract men), she still seems to revel in a kind of unrestrained physicality. Zellweger looks healthy and charming in the role of Bridget despite other characters’ barbs about her being ‘fat’, not to mention her unapologetic nicotine addiction.

Whatever my reservations about the presentation of Jones’s character, it’s a likeable and charming film thanks primarily to the three leads, who all have excellent screen charisma. It certainly feels like pleasant watching for a drowsy afternoon while on holiday, which is where I saw it.

Director Sharon Maguire; Writers Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis (based on the novel by Helen Fielding); Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh; Starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at Penthouse, Wellington, Saturday 4 August 2001 (and on TV at holiday apartment, Rovinj, Saturday 1 June 2013).