Bridget Jones's Diary

By Cara Ann Lane, University of Washington

In Helen Fielding's recent novel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the sequel to her chart-topping Bridget Jones's Diary, a benign alignment of stars lands the titular heroine an interview with Colin Firth, a.k.a. "Mr. Darcy." Like the majority of the British public, Bridget knows Firth best for his embodiment of Mr. Darcy in BBC's latest televised version of Pride and Prejudice. As she questions the actor, Bridget cannot stop mentally replaying the famous, or infamous, scene where Darcy emerges from a plunge in a lake with a wet white shirt clinging to his semi-exposed torso.

It is not surprising that Mr. Darcy's physical presence makes a strong impression on Bridget, considering the prominence given to the character in BBC's adaptation. Significantly, Darcy appears in the very first scene of the series and remains a dominant presence throughout. He rides horses, he hunts, he practices swordplay, he dances, he swims, and, more dramatically, he struggles visibly with the power of his passion for Elizabeth. In a bold effort to purge his love, Darcy throws himself into a fencing lesson, declaring to the viewer, "I will conquer this." After this sweaty and distraught episode, he rides his horse across the open fields towards Pemberley. As he enters the grounds of his estate, he stops by the lake and dismounts. He then proceeds to strip down to a white shirt and trousers. In a final effort to subdue his emotions, he dives headfirst into the lake. This scene strongly conveys the heightened emotion and physicality of Darcy within the BBC adaptation. 

As a book and as a film, Bridget Jones's Diary builds on this emotionally turbulent representation of Darcy. While the diary consciously adapts plot elements and relationship dynamics from Pride and Prejudice, the only character to bear a name from Austen's novel is Darcy, although he has the modern first name of Mark. The hero's name casts the diary as a modernization of Pride and Prejudice, a self-reflective tendency that repeats throughout its entries. One of the more telling incidents is when Bridget discusses television adaptations of famous literary works with colleagues. While most of her co-workers lament the fact that a "whole generation of people only get to know great works of literature - Austen, Eliot, Dickens, Shakespeare, and so on - through television," Bridget stands up for popular culture and is seconded by Mark Darcy (86). This conversation highlights Bridget's tendency to identify more strongly with representatives of popular, and largely visual, culture than she does with classic literature. Fielding's novel clearly conveys that Bridget's interest in Pride and Prejudice stems from her interest in Colin Firth, due to the influence of the BBC miniseries. This influence carries over to the portrayal of the character of Mark Darcy in both the book and the film. References to the character and the BBC miniseries surface throughout Bridget's diary entries. One of the most memorable appears after she reads in a newspaper about Darcy and Elizabeth's - or rather, Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth's - off-screen affair. She reports feeling "disoriented and worried, for surely Mr. Darcy would never do anything so vain and frivolous as be an actor and yet Mr. Darcy is an actor. Hmmm... confusing" (216). The film version of Bridget's diary confuses the issue even further by casting Colin Firth as Mark Darcy. Firth's emotional portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries directly influences his passionate depiction of Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Bridget's diary begins at the turn of the year and highlights her new year's resolutions. The most interesting of these involve her goals for what she wants in a man. She declares that she is going to find a sensible and responsible boyfriend, while avoiding any men who are "alcoholics, commitment phobics, emotional fuckwits, or perverts" (2). However, viewers of the film quickly realize that Bridget is much more attracted to these types of men than she is to sensible and reliable ones. This tension between Bridget's ideals and desires finds articulation in the love triangle of the film. She eventually must choose between two men: Daniel, an alcoholic, commitment phobic, pervert, and Mark Darcy, a sensitive man who knows his way around the kitchen. However, by the time Bridget makes her decision, it is clear that neither fits entirely into good-boy or bad-boy categories. 

The anthem of Bridget Jones's Diary is "I'm Every Woman," a song that punctuates Bridget's quest for self-improvement. However, another song counteracts this message of female self-sufficiency. The fight between her two potential love interests coordinates with an exuberant rendition of "It's Raining Men!" by Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice. With its chorus of "Hallelujahs" the song testifies to Bridget's relief at having men in her life - two men, at that. While the song positions the fight in its relationship to Bridget, the unusual exchanges between the characters pulls the focus away from her and to the male leads. This pivotal fight scene emphasizes both the external conflict between the male characters and the internal conflict between elements of their personalities. In Bridget's apartment, Mark verbally challenges his opponent, causing Daniel to quip, "Should I bring my dueling pistols or my sword?" Once outside they exchange fervent blows and somewhat less fervent, but quite polite, apologies. The routine of fighting, apologizing (either to each other or to bystanders that become involved), and fighting again continues for several minutes to the loud accompaniment of flamboyant music. The brawl takes them through a busy restaurant (with pauses to apologize for destroying someone's dinner and to join a chorus of "Happy Birthday") and ends with a lunge through a large picture window and onto the street. 

The DVD contains a full-length commentary by the director Sharon Maguire, who indicates the fight scene arose from screenwriter Richard Curtis jokingly commenting, "Wouldn't it be fun to see Hugh Grant and Colin Firth having a punch-up?" The "fun" arises from the unexpectedness of the move. Since the two actors are well known for playing heroes in recent Austen adaptations, the fight becomes Edward Ferrars, the honorable clergyman from Sense and Sensibility, punching Mr. Darcy, the noble gentleman from Pride and Prejudice. In addition to allowing the actors to cut free from their previous roles, the street brawl allows Bridget Jones's Diary to present a more boisterous interpretation of a classic than those presented in standard costume dramas. 

Ultimately, the scene allows Darcy to show a rougher edge. Prior to this point he exemplifies the responsible and sensitive man Bridget thinks she should idealize: he likes Bridget "just as she is," listens attentively, takes care of others, and cooks well. In other words, he is the epitome of a sensitive new age man, handsomely packaged in a nice suit. However, the catch to this characterization is his tendency to be manipulated and controlled by the women in his life. While exhibiting his sensitivity and awareness of the needs of others, he is hesitant to stand up for his own desires. His mother and his law partner/girlfriend both make most of the decisions in his life. The film suggests his ex-wife, who had an affair with Daniel (one of the factors leading to this fight), exercised similar control over Darcy. Despite his generally mild demeanor, Darcy has a strong desire to be more carefree and independent. When he sees Bridget and Daniel acting outrageously while boating - splashing about, falling in the water, and shouting - he is envious of their ability to be so spontaneous. The fight scene is where he allows himself to release his emotions. 

Early in her commentary, Maguire suggests that Darcy's polished gentleman is a "fantasy character." If this is the case, then the punch-up alters the fantasy. Maguire also suggests that Bridget does not want a "safe" man; if safety were a genuine desire she would not go out with rascals like Daniel. Bridget wants someone who loves her, respects her, is sensitive to her needs, but at the same time is a bit naughty. With the fight scene Darcy reveals that he can fit all these requirements. He is nice without being boring; he cooks, but he is not afraid to have a rumble in the street. The film allows the two sides of Darcy's character - his politeness and his toughness - to exist side by side, as depicted through the rapid juxtaposition of apologies and punches.

At the end of the film, Bridget comes to realize her love for Darcy. However, when they finally embrace, she expresses some surprise: "Wait a second 'Nice boys don't kiss like that'." Darcy assures her that indeed they do; actually, his words are "Oh yes they fucking do." Maguire remarks on this line, "Mark Darcy is not the polite goody-goody we thought him to be. He swears like everyone else. Cool guy." The swearing ends the film. It reinvents Darcy as a romantic hero for the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; a man who combines the gentlemanly appearance of Jane Austen's leading man, the passionate emotions of BBC's Darcy, and an added dose of playful rebelliousness.