Is Bridget Jones the absolute embodiment of the thirty-something British woman? With a repertoire of choice profanity and masterful wit, Bridget offers an insight into the reality of the 21st Century woman.
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary started out as a humble column in The Independent in 1995, chronicling the life of a thirty-something singleton trying to get by in London. From the outset, she was presented as a role model: rarely had a character captivated audiences with such honesty and comprehension of what it actually means to be a real woman – you know, without drowning in the usual aspirational gibberish. Fielding’s column was novelised in 1996 and was soon followed by a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, in 1999. What we’re concerned with, however, is the film adaptations.
2001 marked the inception of Bridget’s venture onto the cinema screen. Penned by Richard Curtis, Andrew Davies and Helen Fielding herself, Bridget Jones’ Diary was cleverly adapted for screen; the film was helmed by director Sharon Maguire. While controversial at the time, Texan Renée Zellweger was selected to play our Bridget. I’d say she’s done a rather good job, don’t you think?
There has always been a propensity to protest about Bridget Jones on feminist grounds, from the column, to the book and, eventually, to the film.
As Zoe Williams recounts: “Finally, a character had arrived who didn’t embody a prissy femininity of self-control, but in its place was a constant hum of trivia and calories and incompetence. She couldn’t do anything… she was always at her most loveable when she was showing her knickers… Inconveniently, she was often very funny. But funny could wait until we’d smashed the patriarchy. That was wrong. No, let me try that again. I was wrong. The self-abasement and the humour were inextricable, and contained a subtle liberation that it was a big mistake to undervalue”.
Bridget Jones surprised its audiences: as much as people tried to dislike the film, ultimately, you could not deny its success. Since the first instalment, there has been two sequels, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and Bridget Jones’ Baby (2016), both of which exude the same clever manipulation of British humour and wit, as well as putting Bridget through her paces, to say the least.
“Curiously, while it was always enough for Adrian Mole just to be funny, Bridget had to be a role model for women; created as a comic parody, she was judged like a moral fable, and duly found wanting.” – Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian
For me, the Bridget Jones trilogy has a certain timelessness. Disregarding any temporal markers (namely technology and fashion) Bridget Jones is forever awaiting rediscovery by each new generation of anxiously conflicted young women, as Gaby Hinsliff of The Guardian so aptly writes. She exhibits the same doubts and worries that many of us undoubtedly experience at some point in our lives: weight issues, relationship troubles and feelings of having to ‘keep up’ with society’s expectations of where we should be, or what we should have achieved, by a certain age.
That’s what I love about the character: Bridget is a real woman. She’s not a model-thin woman with perfectly coiffed tresses, she is a normal woman who has bad hair days from time to time.
Jo Piazza of Elle Magazine perfectly describes the feelings that the character of Bridget invokes: ‘As I grew into my own single-lady life, wrought with plenty of emotional f*ckwits [what a word] … I was comforted by Bridget’s imperfections. I too drank too much vodka and smoked too many cigarettes and felt like the odd one out when I’d go to dinner parties with my engaged and then married friends in the suburbs where my parents still lived”…
“I liked that Bridget had to wear enormous grandma panties… the movies were peppered with plenty of “aspirational” women, stick-insects who didn’t need Spanx or concealer for their under-eye circles.
But their lives weren’t the ones we coveted. Despite all its messiness, Bridget’s life, filled with imperfections, was what came across as charming.”
Too often has Bridget Jones been reduced to petty arguments over actress Renée Zellweger’s appearance – the very thing the film attempts to discourage. Famously, Zellweger gained weight in order to appear a ‘normal’ size 12 for the first film Bridget Jones’ Diary – when she steps on the scales in the film, however, she appears to be a pretty meagre 9.5 stone – for me, that is aspirational in itself.
Regardless, the fact that Zellweger came across as ‘normal’ proved genuinely significant at the time.
“Audiences were so used to tiny, half-starved actresses that they had subtly became accepted them as the norm; her noticeably different Bridget was a wakeup call. How thin must Zellweger have been, if it took months of doughnuts and protein shakes to make her look normal?” – Gaby Hinsliff
It is a shame that, as much as we love Bridget for what she represents, audiences have endlessly criticised the woman that characterises her. Much like Bridget, Renée Zellweger is a real woman too. Let’s hope that, in time, films like Bridget Jones pave the way for further acceptance of all shapes and sizes, not just the image that the media portrays as ‘normal’.
From Bridget’s management of her hectic love life to her haphazard conduct at work, it’s safe to say that, at times, Bridget embodies all of our flaws.
While I’m sure many of us would appreciate two men (or women) engaging in fisticuffs to win us over (if nothing more than for its comedic value) how she deals with her relationships ultimately contributes to her appeal. She doesn’t always say the right thing, but at the same time, she says what we’d often like to in such a situation – she’s delightfully awkward when it comes to matters of the heart. Aren’t we all?
Personally, I’m still at the tender age of 21, and yet to experience the trifles of juggling full-time employment with everyday life and relationships. When I get there, however, I’m sure I’ll rewatch Bridget Jones and finally get her.
I look forward to it.
As Renée Zellweger herself puts it:
“Bridget is eternally optimistic, self-effacing and finds humour whenever facing adversity… She’s perfectly imperfect, and that’s what people relate to in her.”
Renée Zellweger, The Mirror.
Yes, at times, her propensity to use the word f*ck seems as though the writers are trying to break a record but, you know what? It’s real. Bridget Jones depicts a very real example of a woman trying to stumble through the cultural and societal expectations of femininity.
We’re not all prim and proper who follow the norms and adhere to expectations. Sometimes, all you need is a night with Messieurs Ben et Jerry; sometimes, all you need is to chase after the man you love in your underwear. Swings and roundabouts.
We’re all human. Let us make our mistakes.
Be like Bridget.
Do you think Bridget is an unfair representation of British women? Or do you like her, just the way she is? Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading.