On the 15th anniversary of the release of the first Bridget Jones's Diary film, read our original review by Andrew O'Hagan

If the world ended tomorrow, British cinema would be remembered internationally for four things: Bond movies, kitchen-sink dramas, Merchant-Ivory, and mavericks such as Michael Powell and David Lean. Soon, the way things are going, you will be able to add a fifth category: the Richard Curtis romantic fantasy film. Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill are two of the most commercially successful British films ever made, and Bridget Jones's Diary, the latest child of the Curtis ethos, could suffer the assault of several hydrogen bombs and would probably still do well. 

Like the Bond series and the posh literary epics, Bridget Jones is a film that mostly ignores real life, choosing instead to be the kind of heightened, unlikely, instantly gratifying film that is made to invite the communion of Americans. Curtis's films offer a view of Englishness that has nothing to do with reality: a country of rolling, untroubled fields, giant houses for the poor, fairy-tale weather, cobbled streets and no black people. 

However, Bridget Jones is not a terrible film - it is a funny, daft one, with enough winning charm to stop you from hating yourself for laughing at its many jokes. It is full of pop songs and easy-on-the-heart human dynamics, and yet, under all its likeable front, it can be a fairly impoverished melange. Cinema-goers who have an interest in anything other than America-inclined marshmallowness will be amazed by what the film represents. It's as if the values of intelligent British film-makers from the Sixties to the mid-Eighties had never existed.

Bridget Jones, indeed, even more than its sister movies, represents the perfectly watchable triumph of the formulaic over the original, the cheerily accessible over the difficult, and announces, with a new loudness, the end of a period when many British movies could easily be identified with matters of importance to British society. 

Bridget Jones and Hugh Grant Credit: Rex Features/Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

I know this sort of talk gives some of you a headache, but I consider it my job to express unease when there's something off in the breeze: anyone who says that Bridget Jones's Diary is a straightforwardly good film is not telling the truth.

Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is a single, marginally podgy publishing assistant in the London of the Nineties. She is a bit of a laugh, with friends - Shazzer, Jude and Tom - who are up for it, confused, confessional and bright, and who act as the familiar Curtis-chorus to the main events in Bridget's hassled existence. 

As the film opens, the main thing in Bridget's head is an e-mail flirtation that she is having with her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who is funny, roguish and charming about everything from office politics to amorous boating accidents. Meanwhile, Bridget begins to form a crush on a henpecked, sad-jumper-wearing mummy's boy called Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who also happens to be very handsome.

The scene is set for Pride and Prejudice-type shenanigans (bred in the bone: Firth played Mr Darcy in the BBC's Austen adaptation, and was much admired by Bridget in the book), and before you know it Bridget is up to her big pants in generational complications. Into the bargain her nice dad (played by Jim Broadbent) is left by Bridget's flighty mother for a pompadoured TV presenter. 

There is plenty of evidence that the film did somersaults in the editing suite. Following Helen Fielding's book - a fictitious diary that began as a newspaper column - it starts off with the journal technique, lots of voice-over, and words appearing at the bottom of the screen. But it soon loses that, and becomes a technically standard account of sex and the single girl.

There are several first-class laughs, and Hugh Grant sends himself up fantastically, filling out the role of Cleaver with an improvisational lippyness, a self-conscious buffoonery, that is brilliantly sustained. Zellweger is equally good. She has a terrific face, freshly un-Hollywood, a well-grasped English accent, and she spins from embarrassment to shamelessness to jollity with no bother at all. 

To bring up the British film industry in a discussion of this film might be a bit like taking a flame-thrower to kill a fly, but the frothiness of Bridget Jones can't just be laughed away, not when the success of these Curtis films becomes the fact against which so many other British films are measured. It's not Bridget Jones's fault, necessarily, nor Richard Curtis's, but the fact that so much American money went into this film must be considered if the thing is up for intelligent discussion at all. 

I remarked the other week on the way that Miramax are becoming specialists at banalising European culture in films aimed at the US box office. In some measure this is one of those films. It certainly has none of the guts or the relevance of the book. It has all been turned into heritage. And that, as the original Bridget might have said, is totally crap. 

The performances are good, the direction is crisp, and there are scenes, especially the big seduction one involving Hugh Grant, that rip up the audience. The film is shapeless, though, and it meanders into the cliches of romance - cinema romance - in a way that defies the on-its-toes vivacity of Fielding's original. 

The film really has nothing to do with Fielding's creation - she was much sharper, much more Zeitgeist-defining, and she lives a much more emphatically human life on the page. Curtis's Bridget Jones is not so much a real modern girl as a flighty, second-string cipher in a chocolate-box study of England. The film opens and closes with snowflakes the size of wedding bouquets, and the country lanes near Bridget's mother's house are like a sketch that John Constable would have rejected for seeming too romantically epic. Even the biggest-budget directors in Hollywood these days manage to make New York look something like New York. 

I know, I know: call me an agitated old bore with a fetish for Romanian movies starring half-starved babushkas, but I'm able, by the skin of my teeth, to be only half-nice to a movie as cynical as Bridget Jones. 

Let's give it the benefit of the doubt. Curtisworld is like something conjured by the Brothers Grimm: castles, lakes, and enchanted forests are served up as part of the Britain of today, and everyone behaves in the way that people used to behave in British sitcoms before they went brazen and trendy. 

Director Sharon Maguire (Fielding's best friend, and the model, apparently, for Shazzer) is a fine furnisher of the Curtis touch: it's all pretty and hilarious and perfectly useless. But what the hell. It's fine, for an evening, if you just want to pack your troubles in an old kit bag.