This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
Bridget Jones’s Diary has long been a rom-com classic in my household, never failing to elicit laughter from the women in my family. Though I’ve known for years that the movie was based on Helen Fielding’s novel, I was content enough with the adaptation not to venture any further. When I finally did, I found quite a different story.
Friends, advice, and self-help books
Book Bridget spends a large amount of time referencing self-help books when dealing with her own love life, or help her friend dissect their own romantic predicaments. In the movie, though there are some visual references to the self-help books that Bridget owns, they are neither numerous nor terribly integral to the plot.
Instead, Movie Bridget’s friends give her direct advice about what she should do and Bridget seems happy enough to follow it. Unfortunately, no one in the movie brings up the warning about avoiding ‘emotional fuckwittage’. As a result, Movie Bridget’s method of establishing a relationship with Daniel Cleaver is altered.
Certain aspects of Bridget’s friendships are ignored in the movie as well, in order to focus more on Bridget’s relationship status. For example, Magda and Jeremy (who you might remember from the movie as the hosts of the smug married couples dinner party) have their own subplot when it’s revealed that Jeremy has been having an affair.
It’s probably not a bad thing that the affair was ignored in the movie since the book dealt with it as a mere anecdote and it was never really explored or discussed in depth. Bridget hardly ever thinks about her friend’s predicament either, or wonders how Magda is doing after she finds out, which gives the impression that the affair and her friend’s marriage isn’t terribly interesting to Bridget. With all this swept to the side, the movie focuses squarely on Bridget’s relationships rather than any truly difficult issues that her friends are working through.
I honestly cannot stand Bridget’s mother in the book. She is an incredibly selfish character who tends to ‘forget’ any of her faults, blames other people, meddles in their lives, and flat-out lies to get what she wants. Yet somehow she never seems to face consequences for her actions.
In the movie, I have always at least been able to sympathise with Bridget’s mother. She’s unhappy in her marriage so she goes out to find something she enjoys, and ends up finding herself in the company of a man who makes her feel incredibly special. Whatever happens, her character in the movie is at least honest about her actions and intentions.
The climax of the book comes not from a fight between Darcy and Cleaver but a defrauding scheme by Bridget’s mother and one of her beaus, Julio. The fact that Bridget’s mother is able to plead ignorance and just pretend it never happened rubs me the wrong way. I’m truly glad that it didn’t end up in the movie as it probably would have done irreparable damage to her character on screen.
When Bridget’s mother leaves her marriage in the book, she winds up hosting her own TV segment and constantly demanding to know whether recently single people have ever had suicidal thoughts. In a less farcical segue into the limelight, the movie has Bridget’s mother posing as her boyfriend’s assistant on a home shopping show.
With her mother’s career in television altered, so too is Bridget’s. In the book, her mother pushes for her to get a job, using her apparent pull with various people in the industry. Without her mother’s influence, Movie Bridget’s change in career paths is more self-motivated and satisfying, even if it does seem like a fair jump from publishing to television.
Bridget’s love life is markedly different in the book. The same basic elements are there, with her dating both Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, and ending up with Mark by the end of the book. But, apart from that, many other things have changed in what I think is an effort at simplifying subtly complex relationships.
Book Bridget initially refuses to sleep with Daniel when he says that he just wants ‘a bit of fun’. Though she claims not to be interested in his ‘emotional fuckwittage’, Bridget continues to flirt with Daniel, eventually sleeps with him, and, some time later, falls into an actual relationship with him.
I suppose you could say that Daniel Cleaver is less of an obvious cad in the book. Of course, the American stick insect does make an appearance, ending Daniel and Bridget’s relationship and proving that he’s a dickhead. But during the three months that they’re together, Daniel meets Bridget’s mother, and manages to pass himself off as a normal boyfriend and human being.
The timeline in the movie may not be quite as clear but I always got the impression that Bridget’s time with Daniel was fairly short-lived and secretive. He never meets her family and we don’t get a real sense of them spending the weekend together as a normal couple. Book Daniel also never says that Darcy slept with his fiancé, which prevents Bridget from being pitted against them in a battle of moral right and wrong.
Mark Darcy likewise comes across as more arrogant in the movie, starting with scathing comments about Bridget at the Turkey Curry Buffet. In the book, he’s generally more of a socially awkward guy and the Turkey Curry Buffet is more embarrassing for him than it is for Bridget. His confession of romantic interest is not quite as Pride and Prejudice-esque as the movie version but nor does he have to make up for his earlier comments.
There is no massive (and hilarious) fight between Cleaver and Darcy. Mark wins Bridget’s heart slowly and surely, proving himself once and for all by sorting out her mother’s fraud scandal and whisking Bridget off for a romantic Christmas.
Book Bridget has some spectacular moments of humour that don’t make it into the movie. Her narrative voice is thoroughly engaging even if the situations are downright farcical.
Movie Bridget, on the other hand, can seem completely hopeless at times. While she may not initially refuse to deal with Daniel’s emotional fuckwittage, the way she handles her resignation more than makes up for it. She’s more self-motivated in the movie, choosing to go out and find another job of her own accord and clearly trying to get her life together.
Movie Bridget’s true shining moment comes when she refuses to get back together with Daniel, saying that his offer isn’t good enough for her. Whenever I watch that moment, I’m always bursting with pride and appreciation; that acknowledgement and appreciation of her own self-worth is what makes Movie Bridget so fantastic.
It was always going to be tough to compare a well-loved movie with the source material for the first time. I can understand the reasoning behind all of the changes for the movie, and I do appreciate a lot of them because they eliminate some of the things that bugged me about the book. But the book has its own strengths and, looking back, I wish that a little more of the deadpan humour and laugh-out-loud book scenes had made it into the movie.
Ultimately, the Bridget Jones’s Diary story is wonderful in movie and book but if you’re checking out one for the first time be prepared for the massive difference in the stories and characters.