When Working Title films teased the public with the first image for Bridget Jones’s Baby in 2015, news outlets buzzed. It had been 15 years since the release of Bridget Jones’s Diary and 12 since the debut of Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason.
But unlike its predecessors, Bridget Jones’s Baby was not adapted from a novel written by best-selling British author Helen Fielding. Mad About the Boy, Fielding’s 2013 book, chronicles Bridget’s misadventures as a 51-year-old widow raising two small children on her own and navigating a very different world than the one she inhabited in 1996. (Mark Darcy, who becomes her husband, tragically dies while on assignment in Darfur.) Instead, Bridget Jones’s Baby focuses on a 43-year-old Bridget’s confusion over the paternity of her child.
In Baby, Bridget sleeps with American billionaire and dating guru Jack Qwant at a music festival. A few days later, she finds herself in bed with her former boyfriend Mark Darcy. When she becomes pregnant, she’s not entirely sure which one-night stand is the cause. In short, Fielding’s sophisticated commentary on motherhood, aging and current events in Mad About the Boy has been reduced to a Maury episode.
The Bridget Jones films have always taken liberties with the Fielding novels. That’s what film adaptations do—change their origin texts to fit the format of the screen. But it’s the choices made in these adaptations—and what these choices reveal about the cultural climate in which these films are produced—that should cause concern with Baby. Hollywood just missed an opportunity to show a complex representation of a middle-aged woman—erasing that narrative entirely to focus on a younger Bridget and devise a plot where her more complicated circumstances are absent. Moreover, it exaggerates the paternity plot present in Fielding’s original columns for The Independent which sourced the first of her books about Bridget.
I can see how this adjustment might have happened. Since the film is loosely based on The Independent columns, Daniel Cleaver, who is revealed in them as the father of Bridget’s baby, is an essential character. When Hugh Grant pulled out of Baby, it became necessary to adjust the script in such a way that Daniel’s character wasn’t such a major focus. I can also see, from a fan’s perspective, what is so appealing about the movie’s narrative: It’s one in which all of Bridget’s dreams are realized. In Baby, Bridget has a successful career and wonderful friends. She gets pregnant, and when she informs the potential fathers that she isn’t sure which one is responsible, they support her anyway and even get along rather amicably. In the end, Bridget marries her Prince Charming with her son present at the ceremony.
As viewers, we finally get to see a satisfying ending for Bridget in Baby. However, in choosing this representation, Hollywood shows once again that it is not comfortable taking a chance on a new narrative—particularly one which features a 51-year-old widow and mother as its protagonist.
Of course, Hollywood’s resistance to putting complex female characters in front of the screen—not to mention behind the camera—is not a new topic. Misogyny is rampant in the industry. Roles for women remain stereotypical and reductive. Not even 25 percent of top-grossing films last year featured a female lead. Of the eight films nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture this year, only three featured a female protagonist as the lead. Statistics regarding women’s representation behind the camera are equally depressing. To date, only four female directors have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. Only one – Kathryn Bigelow, nominated for The Hurt Locker–has won.
This blatant sexism is even worse for older women, who often find themselves aging out of the industry. It’s no secret that Hollywood prefers its leading ladies young. Of the films nominated for Best Picture, only one of the three lead actresses featured was over the age of 40—Charlize Theron, at 41. Perhaps even worse is the fact that the parts available to these older women often position them as the butt of the joke. One only needs to remember Jane Seymour’s role in Wedding Crashers or Jane Fonda’s more recent role in This Is Where I Leave You to be reminded of this fact.
Of course, Bridget Jones’s Baby does make small steps toward addressing some of these issues. Zellweger herself is 47 years old; Director Sharon Maguire is 55 years old. And, in Bridget’s case, the audience seems to be laughing in recognition, not in ridicule, as they might with Seymour’s or Fonda’s characters. But these steps seem insignificant when thinking about the potential of a Mad About the Boy adaptation.
Maybe, in another’s decade’s time, Hollywood will finally be ready to show us dynamic, complex portrayals of women.