By Will Thames
The first time I saw Bridget Jones's Diary, I was in high school. Young, dumb, and unable to appreciate the mastery, the craftsmanship, the sheer brilliance of what was emblazoned on the screen before me.
The second time I saw Bridget Jones's Diary, I was older, wiser, and on a plane bound for Heathrow Airport. I was due to spend the week with my college friends, who had elected to take a semester abroad in London. While I didn’t accompany them on their international voyage, I was bound and determined to spend my spring break doing what every other young, hot college kid hungers for come vacation time: take as many pictures of the Ravens of London Tower as my phone could process.
My knees jiggled with feverish glee as Renée Zellweger’s face flew past my in-flight movie options. The flash of inspiration came hot and fast. The bold clarity that precedes the thought “THAT’S what I want to watch.” Bound for London in my signature flying sweater and most comfortable pants, I kicked my seat back, heedless to the discomfort I was causing behind me and pressed “Watch Now.”
Bridget Jones's Diary is a true classic of cinema. A cornerstone of culture. She is genuinely that bitch. Within minutes, I must restrain myself from screaming along to the vaulting strains of Céline Dion’s heartbroken anthem, “All by Myself.” In all fairness, Brigit and I were equally wine-drunk at the time. For now, only one of us is a blithering shell of their former selves. The other, a young man bound for historical bike tours, pub crawls, and friends.
Miles above the Atlantic, the movie envelops me and my mind orbits only the minuscule screen before me.
“How could the public have doubted Renée’s faculties as an actor? Her mastery of the dialect and commitment to Bridget’s earnest yet fumbling nature… I should strive for this level of excellence every time I set foot onstage.”
“The older I get, the more I understand Colin Firth’s sex-icon status. He looks like he’d be good at rocking someone on his knee and reading Peter Rabbit before bed. All in a suit.”
“I think Bridget would feel vindicated by ‘thicc’ entering humanity’s collective vocabulary. That Playboy Bunny look would be a slam dunk at any party I’ve ever been to.”
“Wait- were Bridget and Daniel’s dirty emails workplace harassment? Am I still allowed to find Hugh Laurie hot?”
“Bridget Jones Diary” ends with a kiss in the snow, a pleasure I can now relate to. Along with discovering my personal Hugh Laurie in bed with another woman. Just replace "another woman" with "cross-faded freshman." Ah well.
How could high school me have been so casual, so flippant, so blind to the film’s mastery of narrative and character? I should have been taking notes the very first time I saw it. As the credits roll, I order a final glass of wine and notice that “Bridget Jones's Baby” is also available for streaming. Hmmm. Better to wait, I decide. I hope the title is still available when I fly home a week from now.
I go to sleep.
I see Colin Firth, arms laden with fresh-bought notebooks and diaries.
“For me?” I ask, my hands flying to my chest in breathless surprise.
“Of course,” says Colin. “I know how much you like to leave them in piles and then never touch them again.”
“You know me so well, Colin Firth.”
I wake up with 20 minutes to spare before we are due to touch down. It is the most comfortable international flight I have ever taken. The wine hangover is well worth it, I decide, and as I deplane, I drink in new air.
Intermission - Side room, Heathrow Detention Room, Interview Room, Shower Stall
The first “you must be joking” look I receive is from the airport security agent at the end of the Customs line. She is a stout woman with ear-length blond hair. Two salient streaks of blue eye shadow. Pink lip. At first, I believe the look to be a survey of my apparent status as an unintelligent foreigner. She looks at all the American kids this way, I tell myself. The woman has my passport spread open on a small podium before her, yellow acrylic nails resting on a particular section I cannot make out upside down.
“Pardon me, sir,” she says with guarded politeness. She leaves me alone at the podium and returns with a burly man with a grey mustache and coarse arm hair that almost constitutes a second layer of skin. This is Usef. We are about to become best friends. Usef has my passport in his hands and a perturbed expression on his face. Shit.
“Over here, sir,” says Usef, with that same guarded gentility. What aren’t they telling me? I am guided by Usef down a side corridor into a small cubical bordered on three sides with tinted glass. I am instructed to wait, and I do.
It’s the passport- it must be. They think I’m an imposter- a political prisoner on the lamb from the United States government- I’ve committed a string of murders that I can’t remember due to an acute case of selective amnesia.
The truth is much less harrowing.
My passport is expired. I forgot to double check before my trip- despite multiple reminders from my vigilant father. In an instant, every voice mail, email, and text reiterating the importance of up-to-date travel documentation floods my mind.
Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Shit shit shit fuck shit shit shit shit fuck fuck shit.
I bolt upright in my seat when Usef returns. With a silent finger, he gestures for me to follow. I do.
The Detention Room at Heathrow is an ample and accommodating space. Several padded benches are arranged like church pews facing a single monitor, comically small in the cavernous room, playing British cooking shows. Mary Berry smiles down at me as Usef nods to a lone security guard and buzzes me into the room.
“Wait here.” These are the only instructions given.
From inside the Detention Room, I can spy the security guard through a panel of wired glass that stretches across the far wall. There is a low bookcase between two bathroom doors designated “male” and “female.” On the bookcase are several coloring books (no crayons in sight) Stephen King’s “Christine” and a smattering of British magazines. There is a pay phone bolted to the wall beside the TV set. Mary Berry is instructing us on the proper texture of creme patisserie.
My companions in the Detention Room are varied but few. A black woman with hair slicked back into a high ponytail. She is wearing golden hoops and looks ready to cry. There is a man of 40 or so sitting in one of the benches watching Mary Berry eating custard.
I sit for two hours. I think.
After what feels like an hour fifteen or so, Usef returns. The three of us straighten up immediately, any trace of numb fatigue vanishing.
Usef surveys the room, points to the man in the bench, and waggles a finger. The man follows Usef out, and the door shuts with a buzz and a clunk.
It is then that the security guard buzzes himself in. I take in his face for the first time; sloped eyes of bright blue and the buzzed scalp of a soldier.
“Er- there’s food if anyone’s hungry.” He hitches a thumb over his shoulder, and I see a well-stocked pantry in the adjacent room through the doorframe. No airplane wine. My stomach is fine with that. I raise my hand, immediately transporting me back to kindergarten. Miss Lydia, I need to pee-pee.
The security guard acknowledges me with a nod, and I follow him to the pantry. The shelves are laden with microwave dinners- mostly tikka masala and chicken curry. I select a chicken curry and slide slightly to the right, where a microwave stands open. While I wait for my dinner to cook, I am struck by the banal office-like atmosphere of the rooms. The security guard’s desk, for instance; add a candy dispenser and you’d have a perfectly approachable receptionist’s desk. The microwave gives a distinctly non-American ding, I remove my dinner, and am guided back to the Detention Room. The security guard gives me a plastic fork and a “sorry about all this” before returning to his station. So it’s not all bad. I have a hot meal in front of me. And a man in a uniform with arms that look like they could snap me in half is “sorry for all of this.”
It is here, eating chicken curry and numbly thumbing through “Christine” without taking anything in, that I realize I may finally FINALLY have the emotional experience necessary to fully drop into my college audition cut of “Close Every Door to Me,” but the recital must wait. Usef is back. The man is no longer with him. Usef extends a finger, and I am up and following him back into the hall. He has a new clipboard.
I am led to the same corridor from before, turning left this time, deeper into the facility. We pass open doors through which lab equipment and other government agents are taking coffee breaks. Most don’t look up from their reading to notice me. The ones that do look at me like I’m a malnourished, wet, rat. Cute- but not cute enough to take home and nurse back to health.
Our final destination is a blank box of a room at the end of the hall. There is a metal table, and two chairs, all nailed to the floor. I chastise myself for not watching more Law and Order when I had the chance as Usef readies his papers and gestures for me to sit.
“So…” he says. “My name is Usef. You cannot fly with an expired passport.”
Straight to the point. Easy. Ok, maybe I can do this. Deep breath.
Usef holds up a finger for silence. I oblige.
“Please fill out pages 1, 3, and 7.” He slides three papers my way with a plastic pen. The documents are mostly asking after basic information from me. Where I'm from, why I'm here, what I'd planned for my trip. I do everything in my power to convey not-a-threat-to-national-security with my penmanship. I disclose my date of birth, my parent’s names and address, my current address, a detailed list of everything I remember packing for the trip, and several signatures pledging my cooperation and compliance to the UK government. What trips me up (and ultimately sends me flying home within the day, I suspect) are two blank spaces on page 7. They need the number of the friend I’d planned on staying with, and my itinerary for the trip. It is here that I begin to bullshit.
I make up a number off the top of my head because WHO KNOWS THEIR FRIEND’S NUMBERS OFF THE TOP OF THEIR HEADS. ARE WE AMISH OR..? The trip itinerary I stare at with dread for some time before I begin writing. They need to see that I am an orderly, run-of-the-mill tourist. So rather than telling the truth of my friend’s plans- which would have been something along the lines of “I don’t know, mostly get stoned and wander around” I emphasize my fascination with the Ravens of London Tower, an interest in seeing Wicked on the West End. These two examples feel sparse so, at the last second, I add “visit cat café in South London.” I’d seen one of those Facebook videos for the establishment weeks before. Surely that was innocent enough. I turn over my documents, and Usef departs with no word of how long I’ll be alone in this frigid room.
When my captor returns, Usef has a weighted look about him that tells me exactly what he's about to say before he takes a breath. I am being refused entry to the country, arrangements have been made for the trip home, and, he adds with a baleful smile, I am welcome to return to the U.K. anytime provided I have a non-expired passport. I guess the cat café wasn’t the air-tight alibi I’d hoped for.
He leads me down the corridor towards the detention room but turns suddenly left instead of right. We are in a cramped room with a metal shelf circling the entire space like a silver brace. There are bulky machines of metal and plastic lining the shelf. Some have electronic displays indicating explosives threat levels, but most are indistinguishable. Usef instructs me to lay my right ringers across a pane of glass at the base of a machine to my left. “For the records,” he insists when I shoot him a wary look. My fingerprints are taken, and I am led back to the Detention Room, where my backpack and carry-on suitcase is waiting. The security guard is there, offering me the same baleful smile. “Really,” he says as I gather my things. “It’s alright to come back again.” This pisses me off more than anything. With everyone being so polite, there is no one to resent but myself.
A third man arrives then. Stout, handsome, and equally cordial and pitying. This is my final escort.
“Expired passport?” He asks as we depart. Ah, I’m famous here. Isn’t that nice? “And the gate agent in America,” he continues, “…they let you through?”
I give a half-hearted nod.
“Shit, mate,” is all he can muster.
“My thoughts exactly,” I say.
Heathrow moves around us, windowless corridors becoming glass passages becoming the gate of my departing flight.
“Safe travels,” says my companion.
On the plane, the fatigue hits hard and fast. So does the airplane wine. But I fight the pull of sleep long enough to reach cruising altitude. I want to see Heathrow shrink beneath me. I want to see the entire United Kingdom condense to a fleck of green suspended in blue. I want… to watch a movie. The one I’d promised myself as a reward for a jolly romp abroad.
Pub crawl or not, I am going to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby.
Anyways, all this to say I fucking hate that movie. Patrick Dempsey is way hotter than Colin Firth.