DIRECTOR: Sharon Maguire
KEY ACTORS: Rene Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
IMDB SCORE: 6.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 81%
SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️The cast are definitely fuckable. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, Rene Zellweger and Sally Phillips; there’s someone for every mood!
✔️ And although the qualifying dialogue has been described as meaningless, which feels unnecessarily cutting, there are plenty of named female characters who talk about other subjects than men so it passes the Bechdel Test.
✔️ It also definitely inspired fantasies – even though she’s supposed to be a mess, Bridget was pretty aspirational for me sexually. It may reveal the limitations of my own sexual fantasies, but I really wanted dirty weekends away in a B+B, I wanted to send secret messages to a coworker that I was fucking, and I wanted to do all of that while I still didn’t think I was perfect. And I really, really wanted a kiss like that between Bridget and Darcy.
✔️ It is also incredibly rewatchable. I cannot recall how often I’ve seen this film but it still makes me laugh every time and still makes me so happy, every time!
✔️ After much deliberation, I also decided that it is sex positive – more on this later!
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: Amazon Prime (free with subscription), NowTV (free with subscription), Sky Cinema (free with subscription), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
[Content warning: body image, dieting, emotionally abusive relationships]
I have spent more of my life than you would expect thinking that I would eventually end up as Bridget Jones. It seemed inevitable. Even at the age of sixteen when the film came out, it was all achingly familiar. I come from the kind of middle-class country family who would hold a turkey curry buffet on Boxing Day and my parents had friends who wouldn’t think it unseemly to hold a Tarts and Vicars Party on a summer’s day. I don’t have a pervy Uncle Geoffrey who pinches my arse and asks about my love life, but I do have an outrageous aunt who insists on asking about my sex life, although she would be horrified if I actually told her! I have a cousin who is so exactly Bridget that it freaked me out quite a lot to see her on screen and, if that wasn’t proof enough, through various marriages to various other cousins, there are significantly less than six degrees of separation between me and Helen Fielding, the author of the original Bridget Jones novels. With a messy love life, a cupboard full of control knickers and a fridge that often contained only cheese, I could have been Bridget!
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, describing a year in the life of the eponymous Bridget Jones (Zellweger). After her mother introduces her to another eligible single gentleman at the Boxing Day turkey curry buffet, Mark Darcy (Firth), who then insults her, Bridget decides that she needs to revolutionise her life and does so by journaling. She decides to lose weight, stop smoking, and ‘stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts.’ Instead, she falls in love with someone who embodies all of these by starting a relationship with her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a man who ends up cheating on her and breaking her heart. Throughout the year, Jones and Darcy’s paths keep crossing and he eventually tells her he likes her, just as she is. Sadly the manner of his delivery and lies from Cleaver about stolen fiances mean that she doesn’t believe him and it takes her several more months to realise how great Darcy is and they finally get together at the end of the movie, with my favourite ever movie kiss.
Despite the similarities in the class of our upbringing, I don’t share many of the particulars of Bridget’s lifestyle, but there is still something so familiar about her, which is probably why she is such a popular character, and that’s one of the main reasons why I do think of Bridget Jones as a feminist movie – its a story of an imperfect but relatable woman who achieves her goals without have to change herself to fit society’s expectations.
But this is certainly not the view of Suzanne Moore, which she shared in her blistering article ‘Why I hate Bridget Jones’ in 2013. Almost everything that I read about this film since 2013 has quoted or criticised her article, in which she slams Bridget as the ‘epitome of post-feminism – vapid, consumerist and self-obsessed.’ She criticised Bridget for wasting the independence that generations of feminists fought to achieve as she uses it to ‘get pissed, appreciate her female friends and speak openly of her sexual desires’ (Although, really, I maintain that the freedom to do these are important victories!). Moore felt that it wasn’t helpful to identify with Bridget as she was only a manifestation of what the mainstream media think women should be – obsessed with self-improvement, constantly dieting and easily distracted by men. Bridget may be funny but it is a self-critical humour as ‘her rhetoric about being a strong independent woman is always undermined by her pseudo neurosis.’ Feminists didn’t burn their bras and jump under horses to give women the freedom to flirt with their bosses!
I do get Moore’s point – the battle is not yet won. We are not yet living in an equal society and presenting women as overly concerned with their appearance and romantic relationships does comply with the patriarchal image of women as mothers and homemakers, or trophy wives and prizes. Bridget isn’t battling the patriarchy and isn’t trying to reduce or even notice the inequalities she sees around her, but does that really matter? To share a long quote from Caitlin Moran’s introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of the original novel, dismissing Bridget is dismissing the ordinary woman who needs to know that their ordinary lives are also important and also worthy of being a book and a film. Even at our most frivolous, we are of value:
‘There is a school of feminism, of course, which decries the misadventures of female characters. Why must Bridget obsess about her arse so much? Why must she fall for bad men? Why is she so self-absorbed? Could she not spend these books living an enlightened, guilt-free, empowered existence – engaging only in political activism, literary discussion of restrictive gender-normative tropes, and good works for the poor? What is the point of feminism if Bridget is constantly counting her calories whilst chain-smoking out of her mother’s spare-bedroom window, and banging sexy ass-hats? Whither sexual equality?…Feminism needs the female equivalents of the ridiculous, glorious Mr Toad, Flashman, Basil Fawlty, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Adrian Mole, Ignatius J. Reilly, Falstaff and George Costanza far more than it needs another woman effortfully, and unhappily, trying to live another deserving, upstanding, perfect and dull life, like some kind of angry, teetotal, hectoring nun.’
More than that, I think that there is something very empowering about Bridget admitting her faults to herself and trying to improve. She also manages to do this without too much trauma or pain. Taking Bridget’s dieting as an example, this is not accompanied by self-recrimination when she falls off the wagon nor painfully body-negative descriptions of herself. She wants to lose a bit of weight so she doesn’t need to wear stomach controlling pants anymore but doesn’t seem to make much effort to diet, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a relatable attitude towards food and body shape! Even in her innermost private thoughts, she never berates herself for gaining weight again or calls herself hurtful names. She’s aware of her faults but accepts them with kindness and laughter, and, to me, that is a truly feminist message – an opinion shared by Helen Fielding: ‘I think it’s worrying in the first place that people would think a book about a woman laughing about her foibles is not feminist. It is a mark of strength to be able to laugh at yourself, not weakness.’
And I think it’s important to point out that much of the behaviour and language that is thought to be problematic is not seen in Bridget’s wider life – it is all in her inner monologue – and, honestly, how often do we have thoughts that we wouldn’t necessarily share out loud – whether self-critical or perhaps politically dubious. As described in Bustle, Bridget ‘is the poster child for accepting that sometimes, our innermost thoughts don’t always line up with our feminist philosophies.’ Women are often made to feel guilty for our frivolous thoughts, just as Moore did in her criticism above, but they are real, no matter how trivial they may be.
But most importantly, all of this means that Bridget is hugely relatable. Zellweger described her as representing ‘the truth of who we are versus who it is that we aspire to be.’ And I know that that’s why I relate to her. I’m constantly surprised that my life and career aren’t as chaotic as Bridget’s as I often feel like I too am bumbling around, trying to look like I fit in. The only real difference is that we hear Bridget’s thoughts so know how hard she is working to maintain the serene professional exterior. And that is reassuring! It’s reassuring to know that sometimes even those who look incredibly well put together are winging it a bit too! In my own career, I have never been more surprised than when I received feedback from my nursing colleagues congratulating me on how calm I looked during a crisis as I have always felt like a headless chicken – I felt like Bridget Jones!
Whether getting drunk alone and singing weepy power ballads, accidentally making a fool of yourself then work or prematurely imagining your wedding to a crush, Bridget represents so many things that so many women could relate to but, equally, that we are taught to be ashamed of – and I’m going to tag in the patriarchy here as feeling guilty about our behaviour like this is one way that the patriarchy holds women back. Yet Bridget not only succeeds, she thrives, just as she is. To quote from a Bustle article, ‘through all the successes, failures, and thoughts that accompany both, she gives a sense of community to women everywhere who think those self-doubting thoughts and feel guilty about it.’
But even aside from these feminist issues, this is an important movie for this blog because it’s also a movie about sex!
I spent a long time trying to decide if Bridget Jones’s Diary is a sex positive movie, because there are pros and cons on each side.
On the positives, I love that sex is shown to be a lot of fun! Daniel and Bridget laugh a lot when having sex and, even as a teenager, I knew that that was the kind of sex I wanted to have. I also liked that, despite Bridget’s body hang ups, they can still have great and comfortable sex. The big pants trope started here, and it’s not really shown as a negative. Admittedly, Bridget’s weight issues have aged badly as her figure is stunning! I would love to look that good as a Playboy Bunny and I don’t really think she can be described as fat. She’s not Hollywood skinny but she’s not nearly plus-sized!
But it’s not perfect. When away on their mini break, it is strongly suggested that Bridget and Daniel have anal sex but, just as Daniel is the only character who never tries to give up smoking, I fear that this is used to emphasise that he’s a bad and corrupt person.
Also, the fact that Bridget’s mother wants a sex life is definitely played for laughs. It is both reasonable and understandable that she would still want sex, and is a perfectly good reason to leave Bridget’s father, a man who is useless and appears to make very little effort to maintain an equal partnership. Instead, Bridget’s mother is portrayed as selfish for abandoning her family. When Bridget is celebrated for her independence and career aspirations, her mother is a joke for wanting the same.
But in the end, I gave it the mark for sex positivity as I liked how it described healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how clear it was to differentiate between them.
I was absolutely fascinated by Daniel Cleaver on this rewatch because, more so than ever before, his emotionally abusive behaviour shone through, but I also had to accept that he was still fucking hot. I stand by About A Boy as Grant’s hotness peak, but this is definitely a close second. He’s just so perfect in this role and I can’t blame Bridget for falling for his tricks. I know I probably would have too, and I think this is important as women are too often blamed for the abuse they may later receive. Because there is no doubt that he is emotionally abusive – he gaslights her by dismissing her correct conclusions about his behaviour and sounds in his house when he cheats on her; he basically tells her that she’s stupid and wouldn’t understand his complex life in order to avoid explaining himself; and he emotionally manipulates her into returning to him when he tells her that he needs her: ‘‘I need you, Bridge…If I can’t make it with you, I can’t make it with anyone!’ Also, he had the nerve to say that he thought she’d be alone on a day that is not only her birthday but is also her biggest professional success. What a twat! What a hot hot twat!
In contrast, I love love love Firth’s Mark Darcy! I’m not going to repeat my deep dive into the Darcy character, but I do love that this is another different version of the character. Not quite as personally socially awkward as MacFadyen’s version, I got the impression instead that this Darcy was actually a bit spineless, which is a shame as I otherwise find him fucking hot. His awkwardness seems to come from an inability to stand up to the women around him – he wears the Christmas jumper to please his mother, he doesn’t have more fun when rowing on the lake despite clearly wanting to join in as Natasha thinks it looks childish, and it almost feels like he got engaged to Natasha as he didn’t know how to say no. Do you think she asked him? Or did he ask out of social obligation? Darcy and Natasha have so little chemistry that I don’t even believe that they work well together!
Which is why I love him and Bridget so. Darcy seems so much more relaxed, so much more himself. Them gently mocking each other when cooking and the easy way that he just fits in with her friends is such a contrast from his stiff appearance at other times. Unfortunately, we could draw an unflattering conclusion that he doesn’t feel threatened by Bridget as she’s so chaotic, but I prefer to think that it comes back to the absolutely world-shaking importance of the fact that they like each other, just as they are.
I’ve been repeating that phrase throughout this post as, to me, it’s what the whole movie is about. Bridget spends the entire film trying to improve herself as she has been made to feel inferior and stupid, admittedly originally by Darcy too, but she finds someone who likes her anyway. And Darcy is clearly unhappy with his position in the world, trying to maintain this image of a serious human rights lawyer and well brought up gentleman but, through Bridget, he is able to relax and accept himself as he really is.
And right at the end of the movie, we’re given a hint that he’s not such a straight guy after all (as in boring, not heterosexual, although I would read that fan fiction in a heartbeat). However dull we might have been led to believe Darcy is, that kiss at the end is everything…
Bridget: Wait a minute…nice boys don’t kiss like that.
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes, they fucking do.
And, to me, that is literally the dream – a good man with a filthy twist. When I see this film, I like to imagine a different future from that revealed in the later movies and books; a future where being loved, just as they are, allows Bridget and Mark to cast aside their body confidence issues and awkwardness and then have lots of hot hot sex, perhaps discovering a shared love of kink, perhaps even with Bridget dominating Mark so he can enjoy being controlled by the strong woman in his life in way that does make him happy.
Now, tell me that wouldn’t be a better movie than Edge of Reason.
Next week – Die Hard