Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason (2004)
1996 Novel- Bridget Jones’s Diary- Helen Fielding
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as one part of your life starts looking up, another part falls to pieces.”
This book/film is neither true to pride and prejudice, nor meant to be, and yet includes many similar aspects transposed cleverly to the modern screen. As a contemporisation of P&P it is, quite assuredly, a shamble- but as a representation of a modern-day woman, combining entertainment with emotion and strong characterisation on Zellweger’s behalf, it is almost perfection.
Although some of the similarities are striking (the naming of Darcy, and his rudeness at the Turkey Curry Buffet, the Cleaver/Wickham situation and this ridiculous preoccupation with marriage throughout) many are more subtle. The slightly less obvious parallels fall around the idea of the relationships between the characters- Bridget and her Father share an intimacy that matches Lizzy’s and Mr. Bennet’s solidly, and the concept of “emotional fuckwittage”- as P&P is about nothing, if not fuckwittage. (I must also note here that within Fielding’s book, several scenes are as grandeur and as exclusive as “private balls” and one can draw many more similarities.)
Instead of the sisterly affection and advice from Jane, however, we are left to the devices of Shazza- a seemingly eccentric feminist, Jude- a business woman who is constantly obsessed with her partner, and Tom- the gay friend. Interestingly enough, there are elements of all her sisters embodied within these three characters… and then some. Although the piece is missing the soft, unjudgemental and kind-natured poise of Jane, this group of friends is by no means boring or unoriginal and their moments within the film shine.
There are many memorable things about the first film. What remains fresh in my mind is Jones telling Cleaver that: “if staying here means working within 10 yards of you, frankly, I’d rather have a job wiping Saddam Hussein’s arse.” to the soundtrack of Respect- Aretha Franklin. It’s like feminism and empowerment all over again. However, as much as this resonates well with the audience, and with myself, it doesn’t at all suit Lizzy Bennet’s character. The rules of propriety and the rules of her character mean she would probably think of something quietly cutting- rather than publicly shaming someone. However, this modern example of wit had me in stitches, so I can’t complain.
There is a similarly witty moment in the book, which I will quote in a moment, that reminds me very much of the “Keira Knightley” version of Pride and Prejudice (“So what do you suggest, to encourage affection?” “Dancing. Even if one’s partner is barely tolerable. [walks off]”)
“I’m staying here but I could get my car to take you?”
“What, all on it’s own?”
“Mark has a company car and a driver, silly!”
“Thank you, that’s very kind… but I shall be taking one of my trains in the morning”
It just made me laugh, it’s the perfect Lizzy sort of wit.
Of course, Colin Firth was, again, gorgeous. This character on him just never gets old. Small changes made him 21st century believable, thanks to Fielding- details such as his underwear folding and so on. The fight scene, repeated again in The Edge Of Reason (although slightly less spectacular), was also a nice addition and allowed for the simplifying of the storyline- losing the Wickham/Cleaver character without an added romance/Lydia (despite some minor roles such as the American he cheats with).
I also liked the little head-nod to the idea of “First Impressions” (particularly when noting that this was the original title for P&P)- and I always come back to thinking of the scene where Bridget is introducing Darcy and Perpetua to each other and trying to come up with nice details to say about each of them. It’s also quite interesting that the film and book use similar techniques to P&P, we take on Bridget’s opinions unquestioningly as if they are our own, just as we do for Elizabeth Bennet’s. Within the book we are also asked to make our own first impressions of Bridget’s mother- and both P&P and Bridget Jones’s Diary (book version) begin with her mother incessantly talking, prattling on about insignificant things and proving herself to be a ridiculous socialite.
The Edge of Reason was a minor flop. Despite some of the charm of the original the piece moved from comedic to slapstick in only a few costume changes and venue decisions. The ski trip proved to be more humiliating than anything else, and the yellow silk dress in the first few scenes is just atrocious. Surely the director could have come up with something more witty than forcing an overweight woman into an unsightly skin/bone-tight dress? I also think that they got Zellweger to put on too much weight. It was nice in the original to see a curvy, fresh and real-looking woman. However in the sequel she just looked puffed up, awkward and very unhealthy.
Apparently the book for The Edge of Reason was based on Persuasion, but I can’t really see that many similarities. It also seems a bit more contrived and unlikely- whereas Bridget Jones’s Diary was so real, so painfully laughable, that so many people can relate to it. There is less of the over-thirties, single, smoking/drinking real culture than there was a coupledom, a lot of complaining and some extremely unrealistic trips involving gaol time and overly-friendly/patient taxi drivers.
However Bridget Jones as a character lives on. She is more imperfect than Lizzy. She is more self-destructive, but also has the ability to self-liberate and to save her own situation- as shown through the many self-help books seen throughout. I’ve heard of many disparaging remarks made about Bridget in comparison to Lizzy, but I can’t help but to feel that most of us are more like Bridget than Lizzy, myself included. Although the virtues of viriginity, purity and gender roles are very different in this movie to P&P (and rightly so, for a contemporary audience could hardly play along with out-dated values in place) the essence of the idea of Austen comes through. It is not about virtue, it is about pride, prejudice and complication.
So, maybe all three of them are no proper match to Pride and Prejudice, but I’m not complaining- particularly when Andrew Davies (BBC P&P) helped screenwrite and I still enjoyed them thoroughly.
And the groundbreaking line of all three versions? The simple proclamation by Darcy that he likes Bridget “Just as you are.” Does this not encapsulate everything P&P- and why it is timeless?