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.

Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen trioThe general fascination with Jane Austen is continued in this 2008 four-part British television film, originally aired by ITV and released in the United States as a three hour film.  Written by Guy Andrews and directed by Dan Zeff, it has the feel of very bad fan fiction cranked out by professionals.  Barely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time, three hours is far too much for this slim fantasy about a girl who switches places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

This review contains information about the ending of the movie, so beware.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) is a modern Jane Austen stuck in an unromantic relationship with a boozy, uncouth guy, Michael (Daniel Percival) and living in a flat in Hammersmith with a girlfriend, Pirhana (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). All she really wants is to be left alone so she can immerse herself in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When she investigates a noise in her bathroom, she discovers none other than Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) who has somehow found a portal in the upstairs of the fictional Bennet cottage and gone to see where it leads, which is 21st Century film reality.  Lizzy is not freaked out at all by joining the 21st Century and invites Amanda to visit the fictional Bennet world.  Once there, Lizzy locks the door, sealing Amanda in the book.  I still cannot process this remarkable change in Elizabeth Bennet.  Such a thing goes completely against the character created by Jane Austen.  When the Bennets discover Amanda, they seem to have no trouble with her arrival and blithely accept that their daughter is in Hammersmith and Amanda is come to visit, wearing a leather jacket.  Magic.  No big deal.

Amanda proceeds to wreak havoc on her favorite novel. Inexplicably, Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) fall in love with Amanda instead of Jane Bennet (Morven Christie).  She struggles to set things right, but things keep getting worse and worse.  And the characters and plot of the book change completely at the writer’s whim.  There is no effort at all to show natural deviations from the novel or the nature of the characters, but the plot is twisted completely so that the writer can effect the action he wants.

In this upside down fantasy world, Jane marries Mr. Collins (Guy Henry), Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) runs off to Africa to become a missionary, Elizabeth settles into her new life without a second thought as to her family, Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) is a Lesbian, Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley) is actually a good guy, and ultimately Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) falls in love with Amanda. When the movie ends, Lizzy and Amanda permanently change places so that Amanda can marry Mr. Darcy and Lizzy can continue her new life in reality.

As a Brit might say: Complete rubbish.  Top to bottom.

Lost in this hash are a couple of pretty good performances, most notably by Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet.

Although the premise is not as bad as it seems, the movie really loses its focus by altering Elizabeth’s character so dramatically. Even as unbelievable as the premise of opening a portal from a fictional book to reality, it still has more believability than seen such a well-known and loved character act in total contradiction to what is known of her.  A better idea would simply have been to drop a modern character into the book as Lizzy Bennet, rather than having them exchange places.  Although that idea might work, it would still require strict adherence to what is already known of the characters, a tenet that Guy Andrews seems to have abandoned anyway.

The key to writing good fantasy is this: reality may be altered as long as the alteration is consistent within itself.  With all of the inconsistencies to Pride and Prejudice present in this movie, one may as well simply attempt to rewrite the novel as one chooses.

On the other hand, if you have no reverence at all for Austen or the novel, you’d may as well lose three hours on a kinky British comedy with no meaning or heart. Enjoy.

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!