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My Problem With The New Bridget Jones Film

Photo: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock.
It's been 12 years since we last saw Renée Zellweger play Bridget Jones on the big screen, but this September, the hapless, calorie-counting, big pant-wearing, perpetually single lady protagonist is back. And this time, she's gone and got herself pregnant – by accident. Bugger!

Of the many questions you might have surrounding the new film, entitled Bridget Jones's Baby (and we shall come to them), the one that's burning the brightest in my mind is: Why? Why is Bridget still in our lives after these 12 long years?

When author Helen Fielding started writing a column, documenting the fictitious diaries of a woman called Bridget Jones in The Independent in 1995, she hit a nerve – and the jackpot. In Bridget Jones, Fielding had not only created a literary phenomenon (indeed, an entire genre: chick lit) but a revelatory tragicomic heroine for a new generation of women. The subsequent novel, the best-selling Bridget Jones's Diary, followed a year after the column first appeared, and was a thoroughly modern comedy of manners (based loosely on Pride and Prejudice) for the thirty-something urban dwelling, Chardonnay-swilling, Cosmopolitan-reading, Marlboro-smoking woman of the mid-1990s. Women identified with her, whether they were pleased about it or not. As a 10-year-old, I remember looking at the cover of a woman in silhouette elegantly smoking a fag and thinking: that looks like my Mum. Everyone read Bridget Jones's Diary – I read it before I was even in a trainer bra, let alone Spanx. Christ, my 12-year-old brother read it.

Fielding had found the zeitgeist, for sure. But in the 20 years since the Bridget Jones franchise and its sassier American stablemate, Sex and the City, clattered into public consciousness on a wave of cocktails, clutch bags and kitten heels, a lot has happened. Online dating, social media, Tinder – the internet in general. We've been through a recession. You can't smoke inside anymore. Plastic bags cost 5p. Mobile phones are smaller than our heads. House prices are up. Unpaid internships are a thing. Gay marriage is legal. Even Bridget's birthplace – The Independent – has shut up its print shop. And so, with the release of a new film, I got to thinking – shit, sorry, wrong character – about Bridget's place in 2016 and, specifically, whether she has one.

Photo: Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag Courtesy of BBC.

When you look for the new Bridgets on our screens, it quickly becomes obvious that the changing cultural, economic and political landscape of the past two decades has necessitated a shift in portrayals of femininity, singledom and the search for love. While Bridget got to wallow in the cosy misery of her solo life and good job in a one bed flat with an SE1 postcode, today's "Bridgets" – Phoebe Waller Bridge's Fleabag, Lena Dunham's Hannah Hogarth, Sharon Horgan's eponymous character in Catastrophe – have to confront their bad life decisions in shared houses with no money. Where Bridget's preferred insult was "arse", our heroines prefer "cunt." While Bridget shared saucy emails with her boss, ours sext strangers. The one thing that hasn't changed is the amount they all drink.

Hollywood, too, has started to show the less shiny and slapstick side to 21st century female life in its romcom output. In 2010's Going the Distance, Drew Barrymore is a single 31-year-old intern who tries to make a six-week fling work as a long-distance relationship. Emily Blunt is painted as the cheating commitment-phobe in The Five-Year Engagement and in 2012's Obvious Child, an abortion is the aphrodisiac needed for Jenny Slate to fall for the guy that put her in the family way in the first place. And yet despite this, despite the plethora of interesting and nuanced and contemporary depictions of women in popular culture, Bridget Jones still seems to be held up as the defining example of female singleness.
It's no secret that Bridget's raison d'être has always been to find a man. It's that quest which has propelled the plot of each instalment thus far. In Bridget Jones's Baby, a (quite alarmingly frail-looking, FYI) Colin Firth, aka Mark Darcy, is now Bridget's ex. So she's back to sitting on that sofa in those pyjamas. That's until she goes to a music festival wearing a pair of heels and white jeans in her capacity as a TV exec and meets the rugged Jack (Patrick Dempsey) and shags him, but also shags the ex too so that she doesn't know who the father of her unborn child is. Naughty Bridget! V bad. Must try harder.

I'd argue that the problem with this narrative is that our notion of what it is to be single has changed. The ritual humiliation Bridget would suffer at the annual Christmas turkey buffet for being single in her 30s helped fuel her dogged search for Mr Right. But being single now hopefully inspires far less shame. There are over 16 million single people in the UK according to figures from ONS, compared to 12 million in 2002. The number of married people – around 23 million – meanwhile, has largely stayed the same.

That's not to say that many of us aren't still preoccupied with our search for 'The One' or, at the very least, someone to rub bits with for the weekend. It's just that life as a single person isn't painted as the bleak picture it once was. Indeed, recent research from American psychologist Bella DePaulo suggests that being single allows people to "live their best, most authentic and most meaningful life." So... move over smug marrieds.

But the really bothersome thing in all of this however, isn't how out-of-date Bridget seems to me, but how Fielding and her co-writers appear to have forgotten who first made her famous. Between the last film – 2004's The Edge of Reason – and this one, there has been a book: Mad About the Boy. Unlike the third film, the third book fits the original timeline of Bridget's life: she is in her 50s, widowed, with two grown up children. On its publication, Fielding told The Telegraph that she decided to "be brave" and show Bridget as a 50-year-old woman, challenging stereotypes about the commerciality of "women of a certain age."
It's a shame then, that the last book didn't receive the same silver screen treatment the first two did. Rather than meet Bridget again in her 50s, in the latest movie she is 43. And while it's undoubtedly positive that we get to see an unmarried, 'older' woman as a first-time mother in a mainstream film, it's disappointing that those women who first championed Bridget seem to have been abandoned by her. As they are time and again by Hollywood.

And so my question is this: who is this film for? Because it's not for the young and young(ish) single women who find any Bridget Jones connotations embarrassing and who are already much better represented across TV and film by the likes of Girls, Fleabag and Obvious Child. Nor is it for the women who actually grew up alongside Bridget, and who are now embarking on menopause and the next stage of their lives – single or not. Instead, Bridget has wound back ten years to try and strike a chord with the early-forty-somethings, gatecrashing a party she knows no-one at. Of course, Fielding never claimed Bridget was meant to be an exemplar of female empowerment – quite the opposite. But in my mind, she's become a parody of herself, a caricature of the modern woman, and one that I sadly can no longer relate to.