Review: The Bridget Jones movies

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

As I continue my trek through films inspired on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I came to this one, which I’d seen years before but largely forgotten—which is odd, since it’s a fun movie.

It’s of course an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Helen Fielding, originally a newspaper column about the life of a fictitious typical modern young unmarried woman in England. For some of the plot Fielding drew on Pride and Prejudice, more particularly the wildly popular six-part BBC adaptation (reviewed here).

Bridget Jones herself is almost nothing like Elizabeth Bennet in personality or circumstances (except possibly for her mother’s slight similarities to Mrs. Bennet). Bridget is some years older, has no sisters, and lives alone. She smokes, she’s a bit overweight, and she lacks Elizabeth’s good sense, social graces, wit, and virginity.

Despite having a lot of bad habits and being rather self-centered, Bridget is a nice person without a trace of meanness, so she’s easy to like.

When word got out that Renée Zellweger was to play Bridget in the film adaptation, the novel’s numerous fans were reportedly horrified that an American — a Texan forsooth! — was going to play what amounted to the very model of a modern Englishwoman. But Zellweger threw herself into the role, adapting her voice and accent, gaining 25 pounds, and even working for a month incognito for a British publisher doing essentially the same sort of job that Bridget Jones has at the start of the movie. She was convincing enough that she went entirely unrecognized by her cow-orkers, though, she said, they seemed to think it a little odd that she kept a photo of her then-boyfriend, Jim Carrey, on her desk. Hugh Grant said that Zellweger kept up her accent all the time during production, not just on camera, so that when she started speaking in her normal soft and American-accented voice at the wrap party, it sounded “very strange.”

Bridget has three close friends, two women and a gay man. The man is played by James Callis, whose real-life parents, interestingly enough, are the live-in owners of a B&B across the street from the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street — how’s that for movie trivia?

There’s also a tough and sexy woman named Shazza, whom Helen Fielding reportedly based on her friend Sharon Maguire, who ended up directing the movie. The actress who plays Shazza, Sally Phillips, had previously been cast as the female lead opposite Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film that famously collapsed early in production and was never finished.

Bridget’s third friend is a mousy and sensitive woman named Jude, whom we first see in the act of phoning Bridget from a ladies’ room at work, where she has taken refuge to cry. I wracked my brain trying to figure out where I’d seen the actress, Shirley Henderson, before. Let’s see: very distinctive voice, hangs out in a loo and cries… No, can’t think of it. So let’s see what the Internet Movie Database can tell me. Turns out that Henderson later played Moaning Myrtle, the weeping ghost who haunts the second floor girls’ lavatory at Hogwarts. Despite being in her mid-30s when she took that role, she was believable as a teenaged girl. (At one point she flirts with Harry while he’s taking a bubble bath. If I’d been Harry I’d have gone for it.) I shouldn’t feel too bad about not remembering Henderson’s other big role; it’s not like there were huge clues staring me in the face.

Anyway, getting back to Bridget Jones, she has two romantic interests in the film, one her handsome boss Daniel Cleaver and the other a human rights lawyer named Mark Darcy, whom she first meets (and makes a terrible impression on) at her mother’s annual New Year’s party. As one might expect, Mr Darcy’s character was inspired by the fellow of the same name in Pride and Prejudice, in particular as portrayed by Colin Firth. So naturally, Colin Firth plays him in the movie.

Meanwhile, Daniel Cleaver, who serves the same plot functions as the handsome and charming but devious Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, was apparently based in large part on a real-life friend of Helen Fielding’s, to the point that said friend remarked in an interview that one of the character’s lines is something he told Fielding he’d said to someone. The friend in question was Hugh Grant, so apparently he pretty much plays himself in the movie. In fact, Fielding said that Grant in real life is much more like Daniel Cleaver than the more subdued characters he usually portrays. (Incidentally, another of Fielding’s friends with a small part in the movie is fellow novelist Salman Rushdie.) To compound these interconnections, in the novel Bridget mentions the actors Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

On top of that, Andrew Davies, the guy who adapted the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice — the one starring Firth — was one of Helen Fielding’s co-writers on the screenplay. The other was Richard Curtis, best known as screenwriter for a series of romantic comedies starring Hugh Grant, and also for writing and directing Love Actually, which stars among others Hugh Grant and Colin Firth (and also Keira Knightley, who played Elizabeth Bennet in another version of Pride and Prejudice).

And on top of that, Crispin Bonham-Carter (a distant cousin of Helena Bonham Carter) appears in the background of a couple of scenes in Bridget Jones’s Diary (edited down from a larger role), and he played Mr Bingley, another major character in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. The publishing house Bridget works for is called Pemberley, the name of Mr Darcy’s estate. Gemma Jones, who plays Bridget’s mother, also played the mother in the excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility written by and starring Emma Thompson, in which Hugh Grant played the male lead and Alan Rickman portrays an older man smitten with Thompson’s sister in the film. Rickman is of course better known as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. And Jim Broadbent, Bridget Jones’s father in the film, played another Hogwarts faculty member, Prof. Slughorn, as well as W.S. Gilbert in the film Topsy-Turvy, in which Shirley Henderson, for once not weeping in the ladies’ lav as she was at Hogwarts and in Bridget Jones’s Diary, played the actress cast as Yum-Yum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado. And the woman Bridget’s father tries to flirt with at a garden party to try to make his wife jealous is Honor Blackman, best known as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger as well as the original female lead in the early-1960s British television series The Avengers and more recently appeared in Cockneys versus Zombies, which I recommend..

Well, enough with the trivia. (Though I do have more.) How is the movie?

Quite good. Bridget herself is very likable, and so is pretty much everybody else, even the despicable Daniel Cleaver. The fight scene between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant would alone be worth the price of admission, even with today’s ticket prices. (I’d even pony up the extra bucks to see it in 3D.) There are a few bits, notably involving Bridget’s new job as a television reporter, that stretch plausibility well past breaking to the point of getting in the way of the joke, but they can with a bit of effort be overlooked. In brief, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

Picking up four weeks after the events of the first film, this sequel is rather more episodic, jumping from place to place like a James Bond movie. Pretty much everybody is back from the original (well, not Salman Rushdie or Honor Blackman).

Even more comic scenes with Bridget Jones as a television reporter strain credulity, and this time so do major parts of the story. The original movie was for the most part a fairly realistic comedy about a believably flawed woman searching for happiness, so this film’s farcical, over-the-top atmosphere and wildly implausible plot developments (Bridget spends time in a Thai prison, yet) make this an unsatisfactory sequel out of keeping with the spirit of the previous film. As a result, many of its fans were pretty disappointed, and it was much less popular with critics and the public.

Probably because I’d heard things to that effect before watching The Edge of Reason, I wasn’t as let down as I might otherwise have been, and in fact I ended up enjoying the sequel almost as much as I had the original. True, it’s a lot less believable, but I thought the shortcomings were offset by the fact that his film is very funny, with a lot of laugh-out-loud scenes.

The story line has Bridget becoming jealous of Mark Darcy’s smart and beautiful colleague Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), who’s distressingly younger, thinner, and hotter. “She has legs up the here! My legs only come up to here!” Bridget complains. Worse, she’s better educated, more poised and sophisticated, and can do all sorts of things Bridget can’t, such as ski. When Bridget accompanies Mark and his colleagues on a ski trip, Rebecca casually mentions that she recommended the resort in question and had been going there since she was 11. Bridget thinks, “Wow, three whole years!”

Meanwhile, Bridget’s ex-boss and ex-boyfriend Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) has left his job in publishing and started doing a series of popular travel reports for the same television company that employs Bridget. I’d like to see Grant do those reports in real life. He walks around tourist destinations saying things on the order of well, there’s a museum, that’s boring, where can we go for a really good time? He introduces his report on New York by saying, “New York. The Big, Juicy Apple. The city that never sleeps with the same person two nights running. My favorite place in America, where Sex And The City isn’t just a programme, it’s a promise.”

Bridget’s well-meaning friends reinforce her fears that Mark and Rebecca are getting too friendly, and in her despair and loneliness she starts to think about renewing her relationship with bad boy Daniel Cleaver, who’s more fun than Mark and genuinely seems to like her. She’s also ends up working with him on one of this travel pieces. Complications ensue, Cleaver and Darcy get another hilarious fight scene, and all ends romantically. (I understand a sequel, Bridget Jones’s Baby, is currently in the works, maybe.)

In the novel, Bridget has a huge crush on the actor Colin Firth and gets to interview him. Since Firth plays Mark Darcy they couldn’t figure out how to work this plot thread into the movie (though they apparently went so far as to consider what other actor might be cast as Colin Firth!), so what they ended up doing was shooting the interview anyway, with Colin Firth playing himself, but rather than using it in the film they made it an extra on the DVD and Blu-ray. You can also find it on YouTube by searching for “Bridget Jones interviews Colin Firth” (though you may need to try more than one clip to find a watchable version).

It’s quite funny and brief, with Firth exasperated that Jones won’t let him talk about his recent movie because she’s obsessed with his role in Pride and Prejudice. For example, in the famous wet-shirt scene, did Firth realize his nipples were showing through? (Incidentally Zellweger at one point screws up and refers to Firth’s character in Pride and Prejudice as “Mark Darcy,” his name in the Bridget Jones movies.)

Bridget also asks him about his role in the film Love Actually (where he coincidentally also spent time in a lake) and whether he thinks by writing and directing that film Richard Curtis has “spored his own gender of multi-narrative comedy.” This question leaves Firth completely baffled even when she repeats it, so he finally says, “Well, I think the film’s really funny. In places. Apart from Hugh Grant.”

(Updated 2015-11-06 to fix some of the usual quota of typos and a broken YouTube link.)

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