out of Five
Running time: 108
Well-acted, moving comedy in the Full Monty mould with a wonderful performance by Helen Mirren.
Calendar Girls is based on the true story of a group of Yorkshire women who set out to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund by posing nude for an alternative Women’s Institute calendar. The original calendar itself raised well over half a million pounds – a figure that will surely be added to by the probable success of the film.
Similarly, it’s a testament to the appeal of the story that it has taken such a comparatively short time to reach the screen – the original calendar was for the year 2000 and came out in April 1999.
Women’s Institute In For A Shock
Set in the Yorkshire Dales, the film stars Helen Mirren and Julie Walters as Chris (based on the real-life ringleader Tricia Stewart) and Annie (based on Angela Baker), two best friends in their 50s who are members of their slightly stuffy local Women’s Institute.
When Annie’s husband (John Alderton) dies of leukaemia, Chris comes up with an unusual idea to raise money for charity – they’ll produce a calendar showing themselves and their friends doing traditional Women’s Institute things (such as flower-arranging or baking) but with a crucial difference: they’ll all be naked.
The film tells the story of the development and success of the idea and how the resultant media hype puts pressure on the friendship between the two women.
Sweet And Frequently Moving
Calendar Girls is a sweet, frequently moving film that’s given an extra boost by its terrific supporting cast, including Celia Imrie (Bridget Jones’ Diary), Penelope Wilton (Iris) and Annette Crosbie (One Foot In The Grave). In fact, you half expect Felicity Kendall and Wendy Craig to turn up in small cameos. There’s also good support from Philip Glennister (as the photographer) and Ciaran Hinds (who seems to be in everything at the moment) as Chris’ husband who becomes the unfortunate victim of tabloid attention.
However, the film really belongs to the double-act of Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, both of whom are playing against type – Mirren, who so often plays serious, quiet characters (such as in Gosford Park) is wonderful here as free-spirited, funny, larger-than-life Chris, whereas Walters (usually the loud, brash one) is extremely moving as Annie.
Calendar Girls isn’t entirely without faults – in particular a sub-plot involving Chris’ neglected, possibly suicidal son is all but ignored and the script isn’t quite as funny as perhaps it could have been, though there are several good gags.
That said, it’s still an extremely enjoyable, moving film that has a genuine sense of joie de vivre about it and it’s definitely worth seeing for Mirren’s lovely performance.