Bridget Jones’s Diary

renee zellweger bridge jonesBased ever so loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this 2001 British romantic comedy directed by Sharon Maguire is full of hits and misses.  The hits are all punches thrown between the two men who seek Bridget’s attention and the misses are all those single women who wish they had a choice between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

Adapted by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis from Fielding’s popular novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger), a single woman in her early thirties looking for love. She works at a publishing house in London, under the direction of Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a real hottie that she’d like to get her hands on.  Over Christmas, her mother tries to set her up with former childhood neighbor Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Get it? Darcy. Firth. Nudge nudge wink wink. Of course, he very aloof and disdainful and she dislikes him immediately.

Right from the beginning, you know it isn’t going to be anything like Pride and Prejudice. Bridget is drunk half the time, smokes constantly, burbling, bumbling, and making a fool out of herself every five minutes. NOT Lizzy Bennet.

Setting her sights on her boss, she begins wearing short skirts and see-through blouses and exchanging flirtatious emails with him. He, of course, responds. When they see Darcy at a party, Daniel tells Bridget that Darcy once stole his fiancée from him. Wickham, eh? They go away for a weekend and there’s that darned Darcy again. On the verge of meeting Bridget’s parents, Daniel abandons her, explaining that he has important work at the office. Not so. He’s actually having an affair with a woman from the New York branch of the publishing company and Bridget finds the woman at his flat.

She dumps him and there is Darcy, immediately interested.

Parts of the movie are quite funny, but most of the humor depends on Bridget’s putting herself in embarrassing situations, which she does over and over. Personally, I don’t care for that kind of humor, just as I don’t care for novels that depend on the stupidity of their protagonists to make a plot. It was hugely popular for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the sophomoric humor and the beautiful people. It didn’t win any major awards, although Zellweger was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award. (It’s funny that British actors routinely play American roles without getting props for how expertly they handle the accent, yet when a Texan plays a Brit everyone makes a big fuss about it. Frankly, I didn’t find it as believable as everyone else. Kind of like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, there was something that just didn’t completely ring true.)

The supporting cast is wonderful. I loved Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s parents. Embeth Davidtz, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, and Lisa Barbuscia are all excellent and add to the fun.

There is one other carry-over from the great BBC Pride and Prejudice besides Colin Firth: the screenwriter for that masterpiece, Andrew Davies, collaborated on the script for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

At 98 minutes, it’s a funny, entertaining evening, without having to exercise the brain at all.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride_And_PrejudicePride and Prejudice was the first Jane Austen book I ever read. Picking it up was a part of my ongoing project of reading classics that I skipped in college. Knowing nothing about it, looking at the cover, I thought it might be a novel about upper class England and, although the book does deal with the upper class, it mostly deals with a middle class family.

The Bennet family, consisting of Mr. And Mrs. Bennet and their five girls, Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzy), Mary, Catharine (Kitty), and Lydia live in relative comfort, but without great wealth. However, with no male heirs, their estate has been entailed to a Mr. Collins, so that when Mr. Bennet passes, his wife and daughters will only have a very small amount of money–and no property–for their survival. It is incumbent on the daughters, then, to marry well.

When a Mr. Bingley moves in to the one great estate in the area, Mrs. Bennet is determined that he should marry one of his daughters. The book contains one of the most memorable opening lines of any novel ever written. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Mr. Bingley has brought his good friend, Mr. Darcy, along with him. Possessed of a great fortune and a beautiful estate, Darcy appears cold, distant, and–to Lizzy’s eyes–arrogant. While Mr. Bingley begins an attachment to Jane, Darcy brought to an even lower esteem when a young militia man, Mr. Wickham, tells Lizzy that Darcy did him a great evil in denying him the living that Darcy’s father had promised. Lizzy forms an attachment with Wickham, but Mr. Collins then comes to town with the notion of marrying one of the Bennet girls and keeping the property in the family.  When he proposes to Lizzy, however, she bluntly turns him down, so he instead marries her friend Charlotte Lucas.

Mr. Darcy, seeing what is going on between Bingley and Jane, urges his friend to retire to London, so the whole party packs up and leaves. Jane is sent to London to stay with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, in the hope of reuniting with Bingley.  In the meantime, Lizzy goes to visit Charlotte and meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy’s aunt. When he shows up for a visit, he seeks out Lizzy and blunders out a proposal that takes her completely by surprise.  Angry at his actions–destroying her sister’s chance of happiness and Mr. Wickham’s hopes of fortune–she refuses him in a very emotional scene.

Of course, Mr. Wickham had lied about their past association.

The twin subjects of pride and prejudice are fully examined, not only in the characters of Lizzy and Darcy, but in the supporting characters as well. All of Lizzy’s actions throughout the first part of the book are based on a quickly formed prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s apparent pride is actually a difficulty in dealing with new acquaintances.  The same prejudice that put Mr. Darcy into a dim light also promoted the character of Wickham, who was actually a pretty bad person.  Mrs. Bennet certainly feels a great deal of false pride, having no idea how ridiculous she actually is.  Pride also appears in the form of Mr. Collins, whose obsequious fawning on Lady Catherine de Bourgh is both funny and insightful.

Almost lost in this circus of pride and prejudice is the amazing change that comes over Mr. Darcy after Lizzy rejects him. When she points out to him his own pride, it shakes him up so much that it causes a complete alteration of his character, partly because he didn’t see himself clearly before and partly because Elizabeth thinks these terrible things about him. After Elizabeth receives his letter, she is forced to reevaluate her own thinking and ultimately realizes her own prejudice.

The book is essentially a romantic comedy, but it touches on so many different aspects of English society at the beginning of the 19th Century that it ends up having a lot to say, without ever coming across as preachy. In dealing with such issues as women’s place in society, the economic structure of England, class relations, and child rearing, it reaches a very high level of storytelling, layering in themes far deeper than one would imagine in a romantic comedy.  It remains one of the most influential novels ever written and has spawned numerous films, clubs, and so on.

A wonderful novel! I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice to all readers!