WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: Thirty-two year-old spinster Bridget Jones starts a new year with a new diary and resolutions not to get involved with the wrong man. The two men spicing up Bridget’s life are haughty barrister and old family friend Mark Darcy and suave charmer (and Bridget’s boss) Daniel Cleaver: but which is the wrong man and which is Mr Right?
If William Shakespeare is the undisputed king of the text-to-film adaptation, his queen must be Jane Austen. Every generation has found something new to say about her small-scale stories, and the last twenty years have seen adaptations of Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and both film and a definitive television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, together with less direct versions of the novels such as Bride and Prejudice and Clueless. And then there’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, co-written by Helen Fielding with TV P&P writer Andrew Davies and Four Weddings and a Funeral maestro Richard Curtis. Though it’s by no means a re-telling of the whole story, it owes more to Austen than just the name of one its characters.
As the film begins, ‘singleton’ Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is back home for Christmas, visiting content father Colin (Jim Broadbent) and rather less content mother Pamela (Gemma Jones), and suffering the indignity of being snubbed because of her excitable nature by human rights barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). As she confides to her new diary Bridget is desperate not to die alone (‘half-eaten by Alsatians’), so is particularly susceptible to the charms of her handsome boss Daniel (Hugh Grant), a lusty character who smooth-talks Bridget into bed, claiming along the way that Darcy broke his heart by having an affair with his wife.
However, when it turns out that Daniel is merely stringing Bridget along, Bridget swaps her publishing job for one in television reporting, and an act of kindness from Mark makes her reassess her feelings about him. Bridget and Darcy nearly become close but Cleaver crawls back into her life, causing a whole load of friction and a good deal of entertainment for Bridget’s ‘urban family’, her group of fabulous friends. Meanwhile, Bridget also has to deal with her mother upping sticks for a tangerine-coloured shopping channel presenter, leaving her father devastated.
Like the above-mentioned Four Weddings, the dramatis personae of Bridget Jones’ Diary should be alien to ninety-nine percent of the human population (everyone except London-based media luvvies, essentially); and the casting of Zellweger and her charmingly over-pronounced accent should be an appalling misstep; but miraculously neither of these things are true. Renée proves a very likeable and human heroine, helped by the witty writing of Fielding and her screenwriting experts, and her vacillation between the arrogant but honest Darcy and the alluring but serpentine Cleaver (his poison against Darcy, prejudicing Bridget, is pure Austen) is both believable and filled with amusing episodes.
Firth and Grant both play their parts with gusto, and in marked contrast to Curtis’ tale all of these people are actually shown working. Bridget also gives hope to not-exactly-organised thirty-somethings who will recognise uncomfortable truths about being single, the smugness of married couples being chief amongst them.
Bridget Jones’ Diary is filmed with a light touch, so much so in fact that it invites inevitable accusations of chick-flickery (not that this is in and of itself a bad thing). This is most apparent in the film’s final act, with the characters realising who they really love but just too late to do anything about it – or are they? – and matters concluding in highly predictable fashion. The fight scene between Darcy and Cleaver is framed in particularly girly terms, the violence couched in clumsy comedy and the most unwelcome sound of Geri Halliwell singing It’s Raining Men.
In the subplot too there’s an element of predictability, as Mrs Jones leaves but finds the grass isn’t greener on the other side; despite sterling work from Gemma Jones and the always-dependable Jim Broadbent, the parents’ story has a slightly schmaltzy quality at odds with the smart and sweary urban comedy of Bridge and her friends. Lastly, to my mind, no matter how slightly-built you are there’s something inherently ridiculous about a grown woman who weighs under ten stone (Bridget starts the year at 136lb) wanting to lose 20lb. But I freely concede that I don’t have that great an insight into the female psyche.
Good work from the actors (Zellweger in particular) and writers ensures that by the time it enters its pedestrian, trundly last third, you are involved enough with Bridget Jones’ Diary to care about what happens to its owner; and although the ending is contrived, with Bridget out in the fake snow in her pants for the movie’s cutesy little twist, you’re glad that she gets what she deserves. It’s just such a shame Fielding had to unravel her heroine’s happiness for the inevitable and turgid sequel The Edge of Reason.