VOD film review: Bridget Jones’s Diary
James R | On 02, Jan 2021
Director: Sharon Maguire
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
“It all began on New Year’s Day,” starts Bridget Jones’s Diary, “in my 32nd year of being single.” And so, with a wry wit and winning honesty, Bridget, who began life as a London-based singleton in Helen Fielding’s column for The Independent, sprang from the page to the screen. Satirising women’s obsession with love and marriage, fostered by the media and gendered social expectations, the resulting film is at once a modern update of Pride and Prejudice and a sly subversion of it – a love letter with the most affection reserved for its protagonist, or the women watching her.
Renée Zellweger is remarkable as the young publishing assistant, with a British accent and lack of self-esteem that’s utterly convincing. Falling into bed with her sleazy boss Daniel Cleaver (a gloriously against-type Hugh Grant), she decides not to “give up and accept a permanent state of spinsterhood and eventually be eaten by alsatians” – but Cleaver is far from Mr Right. Could Mr Darcy (played, yes, by Colin Firth), the snooty lawyer who is an old family friend, end up being a better match?
The answer may not surprise you, but the journey to that destination is endlessly entertaining. That’s partly thanks to the flawless central trio, but also thanks to the script – by Richard Curtis, Andrew Davies, and Helen Fielding – which takes Fielding’s novelisation of her column and crafts an exquisitely awkward string of embarrassing set pieces that make our heroine more relatable with every misstep. (For Pride and Prejudice fans, there’s also the fun game of trying to spot Crispin Bonham-Carter, aka. Mr Bingley.)
We sympathise with the life of a 30-something being set up every year by her mother with a middle-aged bore in a terrible Christmas jumper, who keeps making the wrong decision and is surrounded by pervy men. But we also spend every minute of our time with Bridget cheering her on. Because this is a story, above all, about someone taking control of their life – the very decision to write her diary is an act of telling her own story her way. And what on the outside might seem like a largely conventional romantic comedy (complete with a delightful brawl in a fountain) becomes empowering and uplifting proof that women can resolve to have the career, the social life – Bridget’s supportive friends are played with equal cackles and concern by Shirley Henderson, James Callis, Sally Phillips – and the man.
At one point Chaka Kahn’s I’m Every Woman accompanies an amusingly honest makeover montage, while Gabrielle’s Out of Reach later plays out over the final act, but whether it’s changing her job from publishing to TV or cooking the worst on-screen dinner in recent memory, this is a charming story about a woman giving herself agency and turning over a new page – it’s no wonder, then, that director Sharon Maguire frames the whole thing with two New Year’s Eves.