More Durable than Big Pants: 21 Years of Bridget Jones

First appearing in the Bridget Jones’s Diary column of the Independent in 1995, the eponymous character has always been hailed as a woman of the people. From the get-go, her relatability – and uncanny ability to slide continually down the hijinks rabbit-hole – flagged her as a favourite that was there to stay. True enough, the chronicles of her life have endured in their popularity and have been converted to books and films, with a West End musical also rumoured to be in the works. However, the sights of Bridget’s fans are currently glued to the big screen in anticipation of the latest instalment of her saga. Bridget Jones’ Baby is set to hit cinemas in September of 2016.

At this point in her cultural career, Bridget Jones is less of a symbolic character and more of a symbol with character. Those who keep up to date with her franchise don’t do it for the sake of the specificities – rather, it’s the broad overview to which we are drawn. As we watch Bridget flounder in the seemingly never-ending tango between the affections of Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, why do we spend less time speculating about her romantic endgame and more time giggling at our leading lady’s slip-ups?

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The answer is a resoundingly simple one: Bridget Jones, its core, is not about romance.

The characters, relationships and scenarios which make appearances in the Bridget Jones franchise are far from the archetypal fairy-tale tropes. Much as plenty of film-goers would probably love to be plucked from their drab and dreary lives by a knight in shining armour – especially if the face under the helmet looked anything like Hugh Grant (Cleaver) or Colin Firth (Darcy) – we know that this isn’t exactly how life works. Bridget, too, is quick to learn this lesson. On both the page and the big screen, her love life continues to be as wrought with complications as ever. Bridget is unsatisfied. We, conditioned as we are to expect a tidy, Hollywood conclusion at the end of a ninety-minute bout of escapism, are also unsatisfied. This is because life is not about being fulfilled, but instead out constant drive towards fulfilment. The real destination is the journey itself. The treasure is the friends we made along the way. Are the clichés making you feel nauseous, yet?

Clichés, of course, are clichés for a reason. Bridget doesn’t shy away from them. In fact, she hungers for a bit of cheesiness in the same way that we all do, deep down. Take, for example, the moment of pillow-talk she shares with Daniel in the first film. When Bridget rolls over in bed to pick up the phone, answering with a proud “Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs”, we smile and wait for one of the misfits that comprise her urban family to react. There is a pause. The strained “hi, Mum!” that follows slams the door in the face of this deliciously self-indulgent moment for all of us.

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Bridget’s enduring relatability is made clear not just in the way we laugh at (or, sometimes, with) her, but in how her everyday pains resonate with us. Everyone, content to admit it or not, has struggled with insecurities rooted in their love life, their weight, their social capabilities, and their future. In the mid-90s, Bridget Jones became a household name; she was synonymous with the everywoman, the thirty-something bachelorette who openly struggled with the curveballs life threw her way. Today, she continues to provide a particular kind of comfort for multiple generations, from her original target demographic to stressed millennials on the cusp of adult puberty. Unlike many other fictional heroines, this is not because her story promises that we will all achieve our fairy-tale happy ending. No, quite the opposite. Bridget’s misadventures assure us that life is imperfect, careers are tricky, and relationships come and go – but if she’s still going strong twenty-one years later, so can we.