David Lister: Bridget the funny yummy mummy?

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The Independent Online

When the history of this newspaper comes to be written, which I hope won't be for quite a while yet, one item sure to be counted among the glories will be Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones column. It started off not as a glory, actually, not even as a page lead, but an undiscovered little gem at the foot of a page. Elevation to more senior status followed, then a book, then two movies and worldwide success.

Now, a third movie is being planned. I know that before the first one was cast, Helen Fielding had Patsy Kensit in mind as a possible to play her heroine. But the eventual choice of Renée Zellweger was the better one. She captured not just Bridget's ditziness, but also the sometimes poignant angst beneath the overtly comic singleton worries.

For me, the one failing of the two very good films was that they ignored, almost entirely, one of the great strengths of the original columns: the chats about life, love, the universe and shoes between Bridget and her girlfriends. They mixed humour with astute social observation and not a little anger. I hope that the next film will include more of them. I'm certainly delighted that it's going to be made, and believe that while Bridget was the epitome of Nineties singleton London, both she and Fielding's humour transcend time and place.

Not everyone takes that view. One commentator argued that Bridget is past her sell-by date, asking: "How can the ageing Bridget have the same appeal as her younger, more winsome self?" Well, there's more to being appealing than being winsome, even if that's a truth that usually evades Hollywood and the film industry generally.

It's said that the new film will follow Bridget's attempts to have a baby before it is too late. Fielding had two babies in her forties, and if anyone can find some comic truths in that situation, she can. No, the ageing Bridget won't have the same appeal as her younger self. She will have a different appeal, in some ways a more interesting appeal, certainly an appeal that will bring a welcome change for film-goers. Films exploring the comic potential of slightly zany, slightly happy, slightly desperate women in early middle age trying to have a baby tend to be thin on the ground.

I met Zellweger before the first Bridget Jones film was released, and she told me how she had been working at a publishing company to be able to empathise more fully with Bridget's choice of career. That may have been taking method acting a stage too far. A few long lunches in Soho restaurants would have told her most of what she needed to know. I'm not sure how she will get into character for the new plot. But I'm looking forward to it. If it mixes humour, social observation and poignancy as Fielding can do brilliantly, it could extend the franchise for several years, and force the film world to address themes it has generally avoided.

Meanwhile, Helen Fielding is working on a Bridget Jones musical. That, too, should be a treat. But I hope that, between the romantic moments, Helen gives us plenty of scenes just featuring the girls together. And I also hope that, alongside the comedy, she gives us some sad songs.

Public art is not to everyone's taste

Antony Gormley is one of our most imaginative artists, and his use of the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square, to allow members of the public to express themselves for an hour at a time, has won plaudits everywhere. Well, nearly everywhere. One person appears to be unimpressed, one rather important person. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, which is situated within spitting distance of the plinth, deplores the whole idea.

He said in an interview: "The conversion of the fourth plinth into a soapbox or theatrical stage may be high-minded in intention, but it is symptomatic of this pervasive antagonism to architectural order." Dr Penny also said that the square was no longer an area of "civilised reflection", had deteriorated due to noise from frequent public events, and "levels of civil behaviour there are incredibly low".

The solution is simple. Dr Penny should himself have an hour on the plinth. He should use it to hold up a banner that says: "For real art and some civilised reflection enter the art gallery behind me. Admission free."

Bear of very little patience for pursuit

I caught up this week with Simon Russell Beale's highly affecting performance as the king Leontes in The Winter's Tale at London's Old Vic. The production by Sam Mendes was delightful.

But one of Mr Mendes's decisions did surprise me. The Winter's Tale contains the most famous stage direction in English literature: "Exit, pursued by a bear." I always think that Shakespeare must have chuckled at the potential difficulties for directors when he wrote that. It is not a funny moment as Antigonus, the character pursued by a bear, is torn apart by the animal. Yet it is impossible for the audience not to laugh, when an actor in a bear's costume comes on to the stage.

They did indeed chuckle at the Old Vic, but then Sam Mendes did something rather strange. As the stage darkened, the bear and the man he should have been pursuing walked off in different directions. Exit pursued by a bear, after said bear has been for his afternoon stroll.