1. Moving from book to screen
Helen Fielding hit a cultural nerve with the creation of BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY. Women all over the world read the book and thought, "That's me." Just like Bridget, they too were struggling with the contradiction that in spite of enjoying good careers, financial independence and more choices than ever before, they were still facing the same anxieties about finding a life partner and true love. Anyone too who had ever had a disastrous relationship, been embarrassed by their parents, repeatedly embarked on unsuccessful diets, or just had a bad hair day related to Bridget's dilemmas. As Helen puts it: "There has to be a bit of you in a character for you to be able to create her. But the truth is, that little bit is also in an awful lot of other women."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that the moment one area of your life starts going okay, another will turn into total disaster"
Britain's leading production company Working Title Films optioned "BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY" in 1997. Producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner recognised its potential although at that time the book was not yet the best seller it was destined to become. During the development of the project, sales of the book exploded as it was published in 30 countries, selling 4 million copies, 1.5 million in the UK alone. Now, the whole world knew and loved Bridget . Helen explains: "Not only I, but everyone involved was surprised by Bridget's success. It happened very slowly. No one expected the column to last. Then the Independent started getting flattering letters, at which point - being shallow as a puddle - I instantly started saying 'It's me! I wrote it! Me me me..!' I was actually writing the column to finance my writing of a second novel which was an earnest tract about cultural divides in the Carribean"
"About nine months after I started the column, I was having dinner with my editor at Picador and moaning about how boring the novel was. She said 'Why don't you do Bridget instead?' I said 'Oh, OK' and that was it. When the diary came out in hardback, it sold quite well but didn't get on the bestseller lists. It was only when the paperback came out that it went to No1 and stayed there, unaccountably, for six months. I still have a certificate on my wall from WH Smiths congratulating me for making them all look really bad at predicting sales..."
The filmmakers were all too aware that given the whole world now knew and loved Bridget, making a film of her diary was going to be a real challenge. "It was essential that Bridget's character be as true to the book as possible" comments producer Eric Fellner. "We had to ensure it kept its integrity and appeal that made millions of people read it and love it". Adds producer Jonathan Cavendish - whom Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner brought in to produce the film alongside them - "This book had a vast constituency. And because it's contemporary everybody has very strong ideas of how it should be. You have to be very careful to get it right". That also meant preserving Bridget's way of speaking and her very own vocabulary including such newly-coined phrases as "Smug Marrieds" and "singletons".
"The only thing worse than a Smug Married couple is lots of Smug Married couples"
The adaptation presented a technical challenge too. In the book Bridget's inner mind - described in her diary entries and asides - is a constant presence which cannot be conveyed in quite the same way in a movie. While maintaining the basic structure and plot of the book, the writers had to create more comic situations which embraced the spirit of the book and expressed Bridget's anxieties. To ensure the success of the transition from book to screen, the producers asked veteran writer Andrew Davies to come on board and work with Helen Fielding. As writer of the highly acclaimed television adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice", Andrew was a natural choice.
Helen Fielding explains: "I spent a lot of time working on drafts before the production got going and chipped in subsequently when I was asked to... Quite a lot of my lines and jokes are in there both from the book and various drafts. But writing a script is a very different job from writing a novel - much more so than I had realised. A novel is the end product, whereas a script will never reach an audience as itself - it's more of a map. In a screenplay every line has to work incredibly hard. You only have ninety minutes to engage the audience with the story."
Richard Curtis also leant his expertise to the adaptation. Richard had been a friend of Helen's for many years and was very sympathetic to the material. Adds Helen, "Richard Curtis is very skilled at telling romantic, funny stories on screen. I've learned a lot from him." Jonathan Cavendish says, "no one in Britain is able to visualise a joke better than Richard Curtis."
2. Finding the right director
To ensure the book kept its integrity the filmmakers signed Sharon Maguire to direct the movie. An acclaimed documentary maker, Sharon was one of the real-life models for Bridget's friends, Shazza and Jude. She had, says producer Jonathan Cavendish, "an incredible take on the material and brought a truth to it, a comic truth. When you watch the film you know from the beginning that it is true and that's the same element that you read in the book. The book is a successful piece of fiction because it is based upon people that we all know and recognise."
Sharon felt very passionate about the project: "I knew the world so well because it's mine." Bridget Jones was borne out of a time when she and her friends were facing their 30s, still unattached. "We were having a really good time, going out partying, and we didn't really want that to stop," Sharon remembers. "At the same time, we were anxious about why we hadn't settled down yet. Yet, we thought we shouldn't be striving for male approval anyway because we're feminists. That contradiction was the thing Helen so brilliantly captured in Bridget Jones's Diary. There are a lot of women out there who've got their careers, their independence - but they're constantly thinking, 'I just want to be in love. I just want a man...' "
"Maybe this was the devastating hunk I'd been waiting my whole life to meet"
3. Casting Bridget...
The success of the film was bound to depend on the performance of the actress playing Bridget and her ability to convey the character with whom so many women had identified. Working Title's announcement that American actress Renée Zellweger had been cast as the very British Bridget Jones caused controversy in the UK media. But it was not a decision taken lightly. Casting Renée was the culmination of a two year search during which the filmmakers met all the obvious candidates and many unknown hopefuls.
Yet, says Eric Fellner, when Renée Zellweger walked through the door, "She was Bridget". True, she was Bridget with a strong Texan accent. But as Eric goes on to explain, "Renee was a dedicated professional actress. If she was confident she could make that transition from being an American to becoming an English girl, we would support that. That's just part and parcel of what actors do."
The crucial factor in casting Bridget was that audiences had to like her. Renée simply exudes warmth, sweetness and a generosity of spirit. "She has an inner goodness that shines through," remarks Sharon Maguire. "And like her goodness, her vulnerability shows too. You can believe she has a belief in fairy tales, but - like Bridget - she has an acute bullshit-o-meter. At the same time, she makes me laugh."
"However, I tried to concentrate on the satisfaction of being a virtuous, if not skinny person"
Renée came to London in March 2000 to work with dialogue guru Barbara Berkery, who had previously turned Gwyneth Paltrow into an English woman for Sliding Doors (1998) and Shakespeare in Love (1998) Daily tuition involved exercises covering the sounds and rhythms of the language. The two women spent a lot of time going out together - shopping in Harvey Nichols, having tea at Fortnum's, sightseeing in London - as Renée became accustomed to using her new voice and believing in it. The process has resulted in a flawless English accent.
To assist in the transformation of Renée into Bridget, the filmmakers found her a job at London book publishers' Picador, working undercover as Bridget Cavendish, a trainee in the publicity department, and immersing herself in Bridget's world. Over a couple of weeks, Renée answered phones, made photocopies and cups of coffee. Nobody suspected her true identity. Says Jonathan Cavendish: "It was incredibly valuable on two levels. Firstly she learnt about the life of working in a publishing company, it helped her with the language. Secondly, it became known after she had left that she wasn't in fact a Home Counties girl but a Hollywood movie star who had been pretending successfully. The message was clear: if Renée could fool people she was working with that she was English, she could fool everyone."
"The party the night before had been very pleasant and I'd behaved very maturely. But then woke up in the morning to argh... find I'd expanded overnight and actually put on six pounds whilst asleep"
Renée worked harder still to physically change herself and gained a stone in weight to play the role of the calorie-counting Bridget. The delicately-framed and usually health-conscious actress stopped her daily workouts and piled on the pounds with a 'junk food' diet consisting of peanut butter bagels, burgers, pizzas and protein shakes with ice-cream. To complete the transformation Renée relied on the skills of make-up and hair designer Graham Johnstone and costume designer Rachael Fleming to create a natural but untidy look of a girl who always tries hard but never seems to get it quite right.
4. The leading men...
"As I approached that fateful door, I wondered what strangely dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a side-parting she'd got lined up for me this year"
Bridget's search for true love and struggle to make her romantic life what she wants it to be embodies the feelings of millions of women the world over. As Bridget faces up to the fact that the search can conclude in one of two ways -EITHER she ends up as 'tragic, barren spinster' OR she finds true love and 'joins the realm of the smug marrieds', she finds herself torn between two very different men played by two of Britain's leading heart-throbs. Perhaps this is where fiction takes over from fact...
"Am no longer tragic spinster in manner of Eleanor Rigby, but proper girlfriend of bona fide sex god with very large car.."
To play the role of the enigmatic and caddish Daniel Cleaver, the filmmakers cast leading British actor Hugh Grant. From the moment Daniel Cleaver appears on screen, the audience are acutely aware of his predatory nature and that he represents all the kinds of men Bridget is determined to give up. For Grant, the role of Daniel Cleaver gave him a chance to play a very different type of character from the sweet-natured romantic heroes for which he has become famous. "I've definitely done too many nice guys in the last few years," he says. "They're wonderful parts and I'm delighted people remember them, but it's frustrating because people say is that all you do? It's always made Richard Curtis laugh, that people associate Hugh Grant with the characters in his films, which are really much more like him - he really is nice. So I think he relished writing a character that was nearer to the real me.
"This can't be just shagging. A mini-break means true love."
Grant had enjoyed the book and "genuinely laughed like a hyena". He knew Helen and comments: "Helen's an incredibly funny writer. The same story in the hands of a million other writers wouldn't work. She's got an acutely sharp eye observationally. Also the conundrum of a woman today feeling that she has reached her sell by date is a taboo subject that no one had quite dwelt on before in mainstream literature. So I think she hit the spot in that respect."
Says Eric Fellner: "We were particularly excited to see Hugh play the 'bad' guy. At that same time he could play to his strengths in terms of the charming, wonderful side of Daniel.." Adds Helen Fielding: "It's great to see Hugh playing a sexy bastard."
"Hugh is perceived as this bumbling, good-hearted Englishman, he doesn't play baddies," adds Sharon Maguire, "All the more reason why you would fall for someone if you thought they were basically decent - which Daniel is really"
"At moments such as these one has a choice: either to give up and accept permanent state of spinsterhood and eventual eating by dogs.. or not. I choose not. And vodka"
It is no secret that BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY borrows from the plot of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, right down to the name of the hero, Mr Darcy. As Helen Fielding jokes: "Jane Austen's plots are very good and have been market researched over a number of centuries so I decided simply to steal one of them. I thought she wouldn't mind and anyway she's dead." Moreover Helen Fielding admits to having had a crush on Colin Firth when he played Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" and one thing she was emphatic about was that Colin Firth would play Mark Darcy.
And so, as Eric Fellner says: "Colin always had to be Mark Darcy. As the story unfolds, and the audience comes to understand Mark Darcy, he transforms from a seemingly snobby and cold intellectual into a thoughtful and sensitive man." Says Jonathan Cavendish: "Colin has the quality of somebody who is a tiny bit aloof from life but seems to understand it. His ability to remain distant for a long time, combined with his tremendous power as an actor make him the perfect Mark Darcy."
Colin was familiar with the column but had not read the book. He knew however that his name is mentioned in the book, and, he says, "The work I had done in the past was being revisited upon me in this new form. I think the very irony of that fact appealed to me". Of the character he plays, he says "I think he's actually extremely emotional and passionate. He has all the qualities that make a person dynamic yet they're all closed in this very formal English strait-jacket. What appeals to me is that fact that he's revealed so slowly. I love it when you're proved wrong about a character."
5. A strong supporting cast....
Central to Bridget's life are her three friends Sharon - or Shazza - Jude, and Tom, who offer her well-intentioned, but often hopeless advice. At the same time they are struggling with their own anxieties and relationship dilemmas. To play the trio, it was important that the actors be not just comical and lively individuals but look believable as Bridget's friends. The final casting therefore had to wait until the central role had been cast.
"A bit like a real family. Only with much more vodka"
The roles eventually went to Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson and James Callis. Sharon Maguire explains "When we put them on tape together, we felt quite excited. Shirley's so tiny and so fantastically vulnerable, yet so sharp. As Jude, you could believe she is a complete jelly in her private life but a real ball-breaker in the office. Sally - a great comedienne - conveyed the ranting feminist beliefs of Shazza but with an underlying vulnerability. Tom is a very quick-witted, funny character and James has that natural ability to make everyone laugh....
To play the principal roles of Mother and Dad, the filmmakers cast Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent. "Mother is such an extreme character", says Sharon, "and Gemma can convey the contradiction that inside this 60 year old woman beats the heart of a young girl." Of Jim Broadbent, Sharon says: "You'd want Jim in any movie. He has this fantastic face which just makes you want to hug him. And a fantastic deadpan way of delivering words which just make everyone laugh. Both of these actors are so good at comic truth."
With casting in place, the filmmakers assembled an elite crew, which included director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh. His work on films Piano, the (1993) and Angel At My Table, An (1990) - visionary explorations of strong dramatic themes - alongside big American comedies like Analyze This (1999) and Runaway Bride (1999) made him the filmmakers choice from the beginning. Jonathan Cavendish says "He has brought an incredible visual quality to the film. We were concerned that the film should not be an enclosed, small domestic piece but should have as much vitality as possible. If we've achieved that, it's in no small part down to Stuart."
6. Bridget’s London..
Filming began on Tuesday 16 May, 2000 in London. The cast and crew spent six weeks in and around London shooting in locations including The Globe Tavern in Borough, South East London - where the Great Train Robbery was planned - which provided the exterior of Bridget's home.
Production designer Gemma Jackson and locations manager Adam Richards found a street that had its own vibrant character - it houses a bustling traders' fruit and vegetable market - as well as reflecting Bridget's personality. Gemma adapted existing shop facades into a trendy Frangipani, a minicab office, and - for Bridget's convenience - an off-licence. The Greek restaurant into which Mark and Daniel's fight erupts was created from scratch. Gemma's creations were so realistic that during filming members of the public frequently attempted to book a table in the Greek restaurant
London's ICA provided the background for the literary party to launch 'Kafka's Motorbike' where some notable literary figures including Salman Rushdie, Sebastian Faulkes, Julian Barnes and Jeffrey Archer played themselves. Helen Fielding also visited the set there and revelled in the sight of her characters come to life.
Other London locations included the Cantina, Shad Thames where Bridget enjoys her first date with Daniel; The Tate Modern which provides the setting for an evening Bridget spends with her friends; The Royal Courts of Justice for the scene in which Bridget attempts to get a news interview; a magnificent loft apartment overlooking the Thames and Tower Bridge in Clink Wharf which provides Daniel with a home; St Pancras Station and Tower Bridge, famous London landmarks through which Bridget makes her way. In such public locations, filming - even at night - proved a logistical minefield and there was constant interest from the press.
Locations outside London included Stoke Park Club, Stoke Poges, where Bridget and Daniel enjoy their mini-break and Wrotham Park, Barnet, which provided a home for the Darcys'.
7. Changing the seasons ...
The film - like the book - tells Bridget's story from one Christmas to the next. To convey the seasonal changes some locations were covered in snow. One location dramatically transformed into winter - at the height of summer! - was Snowshill, Worcestershire, a beautiful sleepy village in the Cotswolds where cast and crew spent four days shooting, amongst other scenes, Bridget's arrival home at her parents for their New Year party. Some London locations were also transformed into winter wonderlands by top snow effects company Snow Business including Borough, St Pancras Station, and Cornhill.
8. Bridget’s interiors
After six weeks on location, the crew moved to Shepperton Studios to shoot the interiors of Bridget's home and office. Bridget's flat was given a Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) feel, slightly retro 50s conveyed by the soft pastel colours and choice of furnishings. Filling the book shelves are self-help books, the walls are adorned with old holiday souvenirs and photographs of friends. The flat is scattered with assorted mementos Bridget clearly couldn't bear to part with - A Paddington Bear, a Rubik cube, a troll.. The bedroom and bathroom are as messy as their owner's life. There are clothes hanging over rails, an unmade bed, a bathroom sink filled with make-up, ashtrays brimming over with cigarette butts - chaotic but real..
Gemma and her team constructed Bridget's office open-plan style on several levels with a sweeping staircase descending from the reception area into the main body of the office. Hundreds of books on loan from Macmillan Publishers and trendy computers with Apple providing the hardware and Microsoft providing up-to-the-minute software completed the look of a busy and successful publishing office.
Filming was completed on 8 August 2000.
9. Summing it up...
Eric Fellner is confident that: "The overall appeal of the film will go well beyond the core audience of the book, which has predominately been women. This material crosses geographical boundaries because it is about issues that people experience the world over, and it crosses sexual boundaries because men can relate to the insecurities, fears and joys that Bridget Jones has. As a result I think the film will have worldwide male and female appeal."
This view is echoed by Sharon Maguire: "Helen's 2nd book is still in the top 10. Those buttons she pushed in 1995 are still being pushed now. The issues are still as relevant and universal."
The last word must go to Bridget's creator Helen Fielding who concludes: "I think the person who would be most disconcerted by all the fuss is Bridget. In my odd little relationship with her in my imagination I find it very sweet that she has no idea that anyone knows who she is. It's probably just as well - it would doubtless go to her head and cause a whole new layer of chaos."