It’s 25 years since a bumbling singleton called Bridget Jones began to express her views on life in a column which became a bestselling novel and a series of films. Though Bridget’s klutzy appeal seems timeless, to judge by the younger generation of female fans, this quarter-century celebration has a bittersweet, nostalgic feel. Hugh Grant, who played the movies’ devilish anti-hero, thinks it will elicit cries of: “Look how old they are now! Look at the state of Hugh!” and he’s not entirely wrong. Colin Firth has a thick thatch of grey hair and Renée Zellweger’s eyes seem to have disappeared. The only person who doesn’t seem to have changed much is Bridget’s effervescent creator, Helen Fielding.
Fielding grew up in Morley in Yorkshire (“I’m not actually working-class”), where an early blooper — tiny Helen dropping a tray of cakes — was recorded by her father on Super 8. She studied at Oxford and was in the cohort that included Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson. The surprise expressed at her northern accent tells you everything about the Oxbridge monoculture of the time. She was, Curtis says, “absolutely remarkable and magical . . . didn’t appear to have read any books.” She also looked very cute playing Marlene Dietrich in a theatre production.
The key to Bridget, she explains, lies in her 1978 diary, where the famous daily calorie counts (“Viennetta . . . steak . . .) and earnest self-exhortations first appear. Andrew Marr seems to pop up in everything these days, but at least here it’s relevant, since he was the editor who gave the go-ahead for the original column in The Independent. Fielding did not want to write as herself, so Bridget became her mask; also peopling the column were best friends Jude and Shazza, based on Tracey MacLeod and Sharon Maguire, while gay friend Tom (that feels very nineties) was a composite of Richard Coles and Daniel Wood. To everyone’s surprise, millions of women immediately related to Bridget’s comical struggles and pratfalls.
“A Texan? Playing Bridget? It did seem a stretch,” says Grant, much the most amusing interviewee. He reveals that Zellweger’s attempts at the accent were initially more Princess Margaret than contemporary Londoner. Watching the movie again after 15 years, Fielding was startled by its portrayal of the nineties workplace, all bum-pinching and racy chat. “You really couldn’t make that movie now,” she admits. MP Jess Phillips, despite being a fan, concurs: “[Bridget]’s essentially sexually harassed . . . Nowadays you’d be straight to the tribunal.” The widespread identification with Bridget’s quest for a man caused much angst in feminist circles, and Germaine Greer reads aloud a passage from the novel with a scholar’s hauteur. But then she’s asked whether she’s ever felt like Bridget, and the answer’s unexpected.
On BBC2 on December 22 at 9pm
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