Twenty Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why Bridget Is Still A Heroine, Film Companion

Bridget Jones’s Diary, the movie, turns twenty today. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, the film follows Bridget, a thirty-two-year-old single British woman, who lives (and loves) in London. She writes a diary to cope with her mortifying singlehood. Renée Zellweger starred as Bridget, the role that she defined and that has, in turn, come to define her. The leading men were Hugh Grant and Colin Firth (it obviously doesn’t get better), and the mousy Bridget got the rom-com of her – and our – dreams.

The film’s essential British humour endeared it to its audiences: the tarts-and-vicars party Bridget is invited to (she dresses in a racy Playboy bunny outfit), the family Christmases, the ubiquitous alcohol, the disastrous birthday dinner (complete with blue string soup) – they were all a unique mixture of sweet and funny. But 20 years on, does it still hold up?

Has Bridget Jones aged well?

Well, not all of it. Its ‘office flirtation’, which is really sexual harassment, would not fly today. Bridget’s boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), sends her little messages on her computer as she works, which were ‘naughty’ in 2001, but downright creepy in 2021. He says things like, ‘Is your skirt off sick?’ and ‘Your tits look nice in that top.’ Bridget responds favourably.

Twenty Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why Bridget Is Still A Heroine, Film Companion

Twenty Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why Bridget Is Still A Heroine, Film Companion
‘Flirting’ in the office.

This is troubling for two reasons: one is that we are led to believe that Bridget hasn’t spoken to Daniel before this, only fantasised about him; the other is that there is another man in the office who behaves in a similar way, a Mr Fitzherbert, whom Bridget dubs ‘Titspervert’. This, of course, is because Daniel (and Grant) is sexy and Mr Fitzherbert, with his paunch and crossed eyes, is not. Daniel turns out later to be a total creep, but his harassment is always passed off as charm. (This is probably why Grant worked well in The Undoing: we’re so used to wanting to like him that we don’t see him as a murderer.)

Bridget also has a gay best friend named Tom, who is described as a ‘total poof, of course’. Awkward labelling of queer people? Very 2001.

But why is Bridget Jones still so enjoyable?

Zellweger, Firth and Grant make a love triangle for the ages. There’s nothing like watching Mark Darcy (Firth) and Daniel fight accompanied by the strains of ‘It’s Raining Men’ on the soundtrack. (And to think that another iconic 2001 film using the same song prominently!) Nothing beats Bridget and Mark uniting in the falling snow, she in her tiger-print underwear, as passersby stare. And there’s nothing sexier than Bridget saying, ‘Nice boys don’t kiss like that,’ and Colin Firth – or Mark – replying, ‘Oh yes, they fucking do.’

Twenty Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why Bridget Is Still A Heroine, Film Companion
Mark, snow, Bridget.

The book (published in 1996) and the film seemed to have captured what it meant to be a single thirty-something working woman in London in the 1990s, and Zellweger’s uninhibited performance was a major factor in that. She really gives herself to Bridget: it’s a physical as well as an emotional performance. Bridget tries to hold her life together, but it just insists on falling apart. Zellweger is so much fun to watch, primarily because she seems to be having a good time herself. She made the self-pitying and unremarkable Bridget a heroine.

Which brings me to the other triumph of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Bridget gets the guy without a makeover. In films like The Princess Diaries and Main Hoon Na, the conventionally unattractive girl gets a fashion update before dishing out a message about how she should have been loved even without the fancy hair and clothes. But Bridget Jones really lives that message, reflecting what the women (and others) of her time were grappling with: the truth that it was OK to mess up, it was OK to feel like you weren’t all you hoped you would be. And Mark Darcy reaffirms this by telling her that he likes her just as she is. Her friends, shocked, ask, ‘“Just as you are”? Not thinner or cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts and a slightly smaller nose?’

Twenty Years of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why Bridget Is Still A Heroine, Film Companion
Bridget, just as she is.

Bridget Jones’s Diary’s legacy is felt even today, in shows like Fleabag, for instance, where a similarly flawed woman comes to believe that she is worthy of love just as she is. Scholar Anthea Taylor’s book Single Women in Pop Culture: The Limits of Postfeminism dedicates an entire chapter to ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary and its Cultural Reverberations’. She has been compared to Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City and her struggles with single womanhood have influenced writers and filmmakers again and again in the years since. Two more films were made about her with mixed success, but Bridget Jones and her perennial search for life and love endure.

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