FILM OF THE WEEK: Bridget Jones’s Baby (15) ****

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. PA Photo/Universal.
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. PA Photo/Universal.
(Back to camera) Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan. (Front of cart) Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson (also inset)  and Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson.

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As creative pregnancies go, Bridget Jones’s Baby has taken longer than most to come full-term.

It’s been 12 years since Renee Zellweger adopted a near-flawless English accent to portray the hapless singleton in Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason.

In the interim, writer Helen Fielding has delivered a third novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, but it’s her series of newspaper columns from more than a decade ago that fertilises this haphazard, yet joyful stumble into motherhood.

The third film throws a warm, affectionate and frequently hilarious baby shower for characters we’ve grown to love and proves that Bridget may have (finally) dieted down to her target dress size, but she’s no closer to achieving her Happy Ever After.

Director Sharon Maguire, who helmed Bridget Jones’s Diary, and her clucky trio of screenwriters are in a celebratory mood.

They bookmark the heroine’s trials and vacillations with nostalgic flashbacks to earlier films reminding us of Bridget’s infuriating obsessions and her fitful romantic dalliances with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant’s paramours.

‘I’m trying not to think I’m past my sexual sell-by date,’ laments Bridget, as she careens at high speed towards her 43rd birthday.

She works as a producer at Hard News alongside old boss Richard Finch (Neil Pearson) and newscaster pal Miranda (Sarah Solemani), who suggests a hedonistic girls-only weekend at a festival.

A late-night blunder into the wrong yurt leads to a spontaneous coupling with a handsome American love guru called Jack Quant (Patrick Dempsey).

Days later, Bridget is powerless to resist the charms of old flame Mark Darcy (Firth). A pregnancy test at work then confirms that she is pregnant some weeks down the line.

Bridget Jones’s Baby opens with a blast of the heroine’s preferred anthem of self-pity – All By Myself – before a choice expletive kicks her out of a fug and the plot into first gear.

Zellweger slips back into the title role with ease, oozing lovability, fragility and regret.

Dempsey and Firth are attractive rivals for Bridget’s brittle affections and the script keeps us guessing about the course of true love.

Emma Thompson nabs several of the best lines as Bridget’s despairing obstetrician, including a zinging one-liner that advises expectant fathers against witnessing the miracle of birth firsthand.

Ignorance, like Maguire’s rumbustious film, is bliss.