Sally Phillips: ‘Cancelling Bridget Jones Isn’t A Way Of Making Anything Any Better’

The actress discusses the iconic film, and how society has changed, following its 20th anniversary.

sally phillips bridget jones

by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

Going by the release of the first film, Bridget Jones{ =nofollow}has just celebrated her 20th birthday. In its 20 years, the film franchise - based on the columns, then books, by Helen Fielding - has become synonymous with smoking and drinking excessively (OK, maybe not advisable), big knickers and the perils of being a single woman when he just won’t call.

Our flawed heroine might not have always been successful with men. But she did have her best friends, Jude and Shazza, based on Helen’s real-life best mates Sharon Maguire and Tracey McLeod, and Tom, partly based on Helen's gay friends Rev Richard Coles and Daniel Wood.

Shazza - as Bridge introduces her, a ‘journalist who says “fuck” a lot” - was played by comedian Sally Phillips in all three films. But despite the huge feats Bridget has achieved, Sally says she has never been shocked by the film’s longstanding success. ‘I'm not that surprised,’ she says, speaking to Grazia. ‘Because I think it's really funny and really human. [Bridget] is concerned with things that will always be considered: self worth and who am I? And who am I in relation to society? And does he love me? And if he doesn't, does that matter? What do I look like? And does it matter? I think these are all reasonable questions that remain relevant.’

Before Bridget, Sally was supposed to be in Notting Hill, another Richard Curtis film - but she was cut from the final edit, something she’s now grateful for, otherwise, she doesn’t think she would have ended up in Bridget Jones. ‘In those early Richard Curtis movies, the friends just had the best time,’ she says, speaking about her time on set. ‘We felt like the bad kids at school.’ She recalls staying up all night for the infamous fight scene between Bridget's suitors Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) ‘eating chocolates, and giggling’ as they waited to film another scene.

The cast members aren’t as close now, but that’s due to distance, with Renée Zellweger (Bridget) being in LA and Shirley Henderson (Jude) being in Scotland. ‘It's hard to see each other. But we are proper life friends,’ she says. ‘That was one of those jobs where sometimes the character, the relationships you're pretending to have, walk off the film set and become real life. Shirley and James [Callis, Tom] are definitely real life friends.’

‘I love Colin as well,’ she adds. But, does that translate in real life, is Sally team Cleaver or team Darcy? ‘Team Darcy, all the way,' she says unwaveringly. Sally - Shazza is a journalist, after all - then turns the question on me, and asks ‘what about you?’ I sheepishly tell her, even though I know I'm wrong and I shouldn’t go for fuckboys, I probably just about lean towards team Cleaver. ‘Maybe I’m too old - I have also been through divorce,' she sighs at the camera, before offering her wisdom. 'It's just not worth it girls. They’re rubbish people. And they're also just not as good at sex as they think they are.’

Sally sounds just like Shazza saying that, a woman who will warn all of her friends about the dangers of men and their fuckwittage (a term coined by Tracey, who Shaz is based on, referring to when men mess you around for display purposes, like dressage), even though Shazza's own taste in men is questionable at best, and lands Bridget in a Thai prison accused of drug smuggling during the second film.

Of course, society has changed since the film was released. We all look back and gawp that Bridget, as an averagely-sized woman, used to call herself fat. Sally - who is taking part in a few interviews to mark the film’s 20th anniversary and promote NOW's Bridget Mini Breaks - knows she’s going to be asked about some of the more controversial elements of the film. ‘I obviously just think of it as a fun thing to watch with girlfriends, when you've got a face mask on and eating ice cream,’ she says. ‘But I was warned I was going to be asked about #MeToo and anorexia.’

The point is Bridget isn’t fat, Sally says, adding Bridge has what we’d now refer to as body dysmorphia. ‘It was a more innocent time before we knew that you weren't allowed to talk about it,’ she says. ‘We essentially haven't changed. And I actually think there is much more pressure on women to look a certain way now than there was then. And also companies now exploit female friendships to put pressure on women. The idea of turning female friendships into a commodity where you constantly encourage each other to live better, work harder, be more productive, virtue signal and be nice all the time.’

On #MeToo, and sexual harassment in the workplace, she says the problem has simply become harder to spot. ‘We thought it was bad then,' she says. 'I mean, there were certain things that were much worse than sex pesting in the workplace. That was bad. But it's not like the problem isn't there now, and it's more insidious.’ She goes on to name the current movement where young women are sharing their experience of rape culture at school on a website called Everyone’s Invited. ‘I just think these concerns are actually sort of bigger and more scary now,’ Sally says. ‘And cancelling Bridget isn't a way of making anything better.'

So, as Bridget thankfully remains uncancelled, does Sally ever think there could be a fourth film? ‘I have a track record of being 100% wrong on this question – every time,’ she says. ‘After the first, I thought it was a great standalone. I didn’t think there would be a third film after so many years away and there was… so who knows, I’m usually wrong about these things.' Hopefully we don't have to wait another 20 years.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Bridget Jones’s Diary, streaming service NOW is launching the ultimate Bridget Mini-Break – offering film fans the chance to book a staycation in the iconic suite and hotel where Bridget & Daniel enjoyed their hilarious getaway. Find out more at{=nofollow}****.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is available to stream on NOW with a Cinema Membership for £11.99 per month.

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