Lust Actually: Bridget Jones’s Men   

By Madelyn M. Ritrosky-Winslow

C 2004. All rights reserved.
Entertainment Magazine

Bridget Jones (RENÉE ZELLWEGER) and a sleeping Mark Darcy (COLIN FIRTH) in a moment of romantic bliss.

Colin Firth…  Hugh Grant…  How is a girl to choose?  

These two striking men are the rival lovers who come to blows over the average-girl heroine in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and who do so again in the highly anticipated, unusual romantic comedy sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (opens in theaters November 19, 2004).  

Oh, to be Bridget – or Renée Zellweger.  When Mark Darcy (Firth) fights Daniel Cleaver (Grant), savvy fans know it’s Colin Firth beating up Hugh Grant.  In one corner of this British rom-com franchise we have Grant as Daniel – sly, witty, teasing, and casually sexy, an engaging flirt who can charm your skirt off.  Hold on to your skirts for the sequel.  

COLIN FIRTH as Mark Darcy

In the opposite corner we have Firth as Mark – intense, committed, quietly droll, and profoundly sexy, possessor of a disarming sincerity that’s impossible to resist.  Who wants to resist?  Firth’s star image is exactly that of an irresistible sexual magnet for women.  

Such are the simple (and shameless) joys of the Bridget Jones films:  we can drool over Firth and Grant, as Mark and Daniel vie for Bridget.  What a tough job to have to kiss both Colin and Hugh.  Poor Renée.           

Bridget’s initial reaction to each man was, of course, to drool.  When Bridget and Mark finally get their hands (and lips) on each other in the first film, Bridget realizes that Daniel was charming but Mark is the true lover. Grant-as-Daniel and Firth-as-Mark are seductive representations of heterosexual masculinity.  

Viewers get double the pleasure with two equally attractive leading men – doubled yet again with the sequel.  These films and publicity consciously use star associations, including past performances and established star images, to entice women with sexy Hugh Grant and dashing Colin Firth.  This is especially true of Firth.

Helen Fielding, author of the original Bridget Jones newspaper columns and books and one of the screenwriters, modeled Mark Darcy on Firth as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1995).  That popular BBC/A&E miniseries launched Firth, as the romantic Jane Austen hero, into sex symbol stardom.  

Edge of Reason continues the blending of actor, image, and character to give us Grant-as-devilish-Daniel and Firth-as-ideal-Mark.  It’s not just that this is round two.  It’s that round one so thoroughly played on their images, while their off-screen public personae and between-Bridget characters tie in neatly. 

HUGH GRANT as Daniel Cleaver

Think of Grant’s selfish, scheming characters, redeemed at the end, in About a Boy (2002) and Two Weeks Notice (2002).  Think of his charming prime minister in Love Actually (2003), which continues his Notting Hill (1999) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) sensitive screen persona.  

But also think of Grant’s off-screen image, by the time of Bridget Jones’s Diary, imbued with raciness through divine encounter, hurly-burly love life, and rapier wit.  Grant was number six on People magazine’s ten sexiest men list of 2003.  Now, with wily bad-boy charm, Grant’s Daniel takes Bridget to the edge of reason.  Fans are divided, but some feel the badder the better with Grant. 

Firth’s characters are essentially sensitive, wanted men.  Think of The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), What a Girl Wants (2003), Hope Springs (2003), Love Actually, and Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003).  But Mark Darcy is off the charts:  women I’ve talked with (and I’ve talked with quite a few in my research) use descriptions like “delectable,” “hot beyond hot,” and “still waters run deep.”  

What makes Mark so gosh-darn attractive?  To fans, he is pretty much the perfect man.  Indeed, in the trailers and posters for Edge of Reason, Mark is described as exactly this:  a “flawless” and “perfect boyfriend” (you know he will be by movie’s end).  Talk about a highly desirable lover.  

Firth’s physical attributes (tall, dark, and handsome – killer smile, eyes to match) and his image of off-screen integrity seal the deal.  No wonder he is at the top of British sexiest actor lists, has a burgeoning fan base in the U.S., and has women proclaiming him “the sexiest man alive.”  Listen up, People magazine.       

The masculinity embodied by Hugh Grant in films like Sense and Sensibility (1995), Notting Hill, and Love Actually and by Colin Firth in films like Pride and Prejudice, Love Actually, and both Bridget Jones films is of a specific variety.  

(L to r) HUGH GRANT as Daniel Cleaver and RENÉE ZELLWEGER as Bridget Jones in a quiet, romantic moment.

This kind of masculinity can be intoxicating:  an outrageously attractive man desires completely one woman, promising unconditional love, sexual fulfillment, and fidelity.  

As Mark tells Bridget in Bridget Jones’s Diary, “I like you very much – just as you are.”  That’s a tantalizing fantasy indeed – even for those of us who have wonderful men in our lives.  Perhaps the key ingredient to these romantic characters is the implication that these men, through true love, will unleash their tender emotions and sexuality for the right woman.  Now that’s sexy.

Hugh Grant and Colin Firth could be described as “women’s men,” often overtly eroticized for a female audience – a relatively rare representation of masculinity.

Traditionally, women are constructed on-screen as “to-be-looked-at,” while men do most of the looking.  If men’s bodies are “exhibited,” films provide excuses such as fighting.  

Grant and Firth are not only often framed as to-be-looked-at by women in their films and in the audience, but they are watched exactly this way.  This is not to say their characters don’t gaze longingly at women they love – they certainly do, with Firth as Mr. Darcy arguably setting the contemporary standard for what is called a smoldering gaze of desire.  It’s an intricate mesh of men looking and being looked at, the actors making desire come alive for women in the audience.      

British writer Dominic Wills says “few actors have ever burrowed as deeply into the national female psyche as Colin Firth. It seems that no British woman of child-bearing age can quite control herself when his name is mentioned.”  Mr. Darcy did this.  So with Edge of Reason, where pre-release publicity and press coverage for this eagerly anticipated film point to Firth’s sublime attractiveness, it’s mind-boggling.  But then we also have Hugh Grant, who may be at his best playing cads.  Fight!            

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Photos: Copyright: © 2004 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS and STUDIO CANAL and MIRAMAX FILM CORP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Credit: Laurie Sparham.