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16 September 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 9:53am

Who is Bridget Jones? Why 2016’s updated character is as enigmatic as she was in the Nineties

Bridget Jones, so often thought of as a stereotype, is ultimately such a contested figure because she cannot be pigeonholed.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Who is Bridget Jones? And what does she represent? The answer varies depending on who you’re talking to. To some, she’s a sexist portrayal of a pathetic, desperate woman; to others, an aspirational feminist icon; to more still, simply a relatable, flawed human being who’s tremendous fun to watch.

The dispute over who Bridget Jones is has long been central to the tensions in the films – is she a “verbally incontinent spinster who smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish and dresses like her mother”? Or the opposite: “Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs”? Or is she best when not defined by an absence (or otherwise) of men, as a loving, endearing friend: “Bridget, who cannot cook, but who we love”?

The debate continues in this latest film, Bridget Jones’s Baby. “There are names for women like you now, Bridge,” Bridget’s 30-something colleague Miranda tells her. “You’re a cougar, you are a MILF.” “I’m not a MILF!” she retorts. “I’m not even a mum. I’m a spinster. I’m a SPILF.”

Bridget Jones is ultimately such a contested figure because she is a mix of so many things at once. On the one hand, she’s an extremely aspirational character: she always has a great job, a gorgeous Borough flat, a bunch of funny, charming friends, and at least two handsome men fighting over her at any given time. On the other, she’s relatable in her constant catastrophes: she is terminally late, loses jobs, fucks her boss, and accidentally offends anyone who might cross paths with her.

At times, Bridget seems like the ultimate portrait of a modern woman – urban, promiscuous, insecure, ambitious, socially progressive – and yet she’s simultaneously achingly traditional, obsessive about her single-dom, preoccupied with finding Mr Right. She’s a bag of contradictions, undecided over whether she’s having a blast as a young, successful woman in the city, or longing for the romance of something simpler –  and more patriarchal.

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Taking Bridget out of her late Nineties and early Noughties setting, and reimagining her as single again in her forties in the London of 2016, only emphasises these tensions. The original Bridget Jones films seem cosy, traditional fare in retrospect, and it’s hard to imagine Bridget in a more modern world – will she embrace it or reject it? As always with Jones, the answer is a bit of both.

In Bridget Jones’s Baby, Bridget picks and chooses the bits of modern life she likes. Being able to take comfort in her job as a top news producer, and surround herself with other young, ambitious women is definitely a plus. Feminist street protests that inconvenience our heroine en route to the hospital are definitely a minus. (“I mean honestly!” Bridget’s mum exclaims, “Do we need any more rights?!”)  A reliance on dating apps is seen as an unfortunate over-digitisation of modern life.

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So, too, are the “clickbait generation” – the only villain of the film is a new boss at Bridget’s news network, who wants more cats that look like Hitler and less foreign reporting, and offers Bridget the opportunity to give her most overwhelming rejection of modernity:

“I don’t want to be part of your rebranding – I haven’t got the right haircut anyway, and I don’t drink cocktails out of jam jars and post photos of my lunch on Instagram. And I suppose it’s become unfashionable to care about wanting to make something worthwhile. But I would rather be old fashioned and unemployed than part of a show that celebrates the inane. And maybe when my boy is old enough to understand, integrity will be fashionable again.”

Unconventional family structures, though, are a win. She encourages her mum, running for a parish election on a conservative policy slate, to reject her obsession with traditional family values: “It’s not the 1950s, look around you! Two lesbians have just adopted at Number 32. If you don’t change the way you look at things, you’re going to lose your precious election, and perhaps your daughter.”

But while Bridget is vocal in her support of other people’s right to shake up the family dynamic, she stops short of doing it herself. The film plays around with the idea of Bridget, Mark, and the other potential father of her child, Jack, ending up in a non-traditional family unit. Mark and Jack are mistaken for two gay parents (with Bridget as surrogate mother), the film teases us with the suggestion that the three might end up in either a polyamorous relationship, or as thrust-together co-parents. But (spoiler alert!) these always remain nods to how times of changed, never genuine options.

Bridget Jones in 2016 isn’t so different, then, to Bridget Jones in the Nineties: successful yet insecure, simultaneously aspirational and relatable, progressive and traditional, cynical and romantic, and always irresistibly, even irritatingly, watchable. In the end, Bridget is what she always was – a complicated, contradictory mess.