Calendar Girls - the film

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Calendar Girls

Chrissie's M&S cake

Chrissie gets an idea

Gilrs shout off, off, off to Chrissie

The film Calendar Girls










" ... but the script is what really makes it work, creating drama without losing credibility, generating empathy for the characters and their situation."

When the ladies of the Rylstone and District Women's Institute decided to raise funds for leukaemia research after the disease struck down the husband of one of their members, the money-making scheme seemed straightforward enough - a calendar depicting the ladies going about flower arranging, jam making and the like.

Except of course they did it in the buff, the calendar brought in more than £300,000 and the ladies became a media sensation.

Now, a confession. I was at the cinema when a trailer for Calendar Girls appeared and I was so alarmed I actually found myself shouting out "Oh my God!" repeatedly.

That's how unappetising I found the prospect of this film. It was a story which I thought had surely run its course.

However I am delighted to be able to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a movie that could so easily have followed an inevitable British cinema formula and offered nothing new, but which instead presents fully rounded characters and an uplifting story. The result? A really charming picture.

The performers are all first rate - a terrific turn from Julie Walters, great work as always from Helen Mirren, while among the other ladies Celia Imrie not only holds her own alongside her slightly more eminent colleagues but can also look forward to some fan mail from Russ Meyer enthusiasts.

The action is assured and never too flashy, but the script is what really makes it work, creating drama without losing credibility, generating empathy for the characters and their situation.

The end result is a film with more than enough genuine warmth and humour to keep you amused and entertained without ever feeling like it strays too firmly into sitcom or Full Monty territory. So well worth catching.

FILM 2003 Jonathan Ross


The Guardian

" ...script is already being called "cinematic HRT..."

Colin Welland famously tempted fate when he declared that the "British are coming" after winning an Oscar for Chariots of Fire. But it is a safe bet that a second coming for commercial British cinema cannot be too far off after a small film called Calendar Girls was acclaimed last night.

Before its low-key screening on the fringes of the festival, there had been talk that this might just be the next "little big" British film after Billy Elliot and The Full Monty to enchant audiences worldwide. If the critics who blubbed and laughed their way through it are anything to go by, it could well beat both at the box office.

Calendar Girls is based on the real-life women of the Rylstone Women's Institute in the Yorkshire Dales who stripped for a charity calendar after one of their husbands died of leukaemia. To say that it charmed Cannes is something of an understatement.

Juliette Towhidi's and Tim Firth's script is already being called "cinematic HRT", with the potential to get middle-aged women who haven't been to the cinema in years flocking along in the way Bridget Jones did for twentysomethings.

Like the calendar itself, the £1.5m film is perfectly demure. Celia Imrie, whose bosoms are in one scene shielded by a pair of iced cherry tarts, said: "The Americans are very prudish, so you don't see that much, thank God. Even so, we had to be naked on set at various times, which was a bit scary."

The film turns on the friendship between Julie Walters and Helen Mirren, whose characters are based on Angela Baker and Tricia Stewart, who dreamed up the idea of an alternative calendar in 1999, a year after Mrs Baker's husband John died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Fiachra Gibbons

Friday May 16, 2003

The Guardian


Review written for the Hollywood screening of Calendar Girls

"It's a triumph that there is nothing sniggering or preachy in a film that deals with breaching conventions of decorum..."

In 1997's "The Full Monty," it was a bunch of down-and-out lads in the urban blight of Sheffield who danced naked because they were unemployed. In "Calendar Girls," it's a group of middle-aged ladies who get their kit off in beautiful rural Yorkshire.
Far from the ranks of the unemployed, they're industrious members of the Women's Institute. These doughty women of a certain age pose in the nude not because they're broke, but to raise money for leukaemia research. It's a real-life story adapted into a grown-up comedy that is warm, winning and sexy. Call it "The Full Auntie."
With a rich mix of characters, emotions and reactions that all couples will recognize, and a clever nod to the younger generation, "Calendar Girls" has universal wit and wisdom that should make it a crowd-pleaser everywhere. The film opens here Sept. 5 and in North America on Dec. 19.
The aunts, mothers, wives and widows who make up the "Calendar Girls" are played by a roster of fine British performers who, along with the actors who play the long-suffering men in their lives, combine for an enchanting ensemble performance. Helen Mirren (Chris) and Julie Walters (Annie) play the best-pal ringleaders of the more spirited members of the Women's Institute in the picturesque village of Knapely on the Yorkshire dales. Easygoing Chris is not past submitting a ready-made cake from Marks & Spencer in the baking competition at the annual fete, but sober Annie usually provides the brakes for her wilder schemes. When Annie's husband dies of leukaemia, however, Chris' notion of a W.I. nude calendar captures her imagination.
The real-life calendar ladies did end up becoming famous, going on "The Tonight Show"and raising thousands for charity, and the film follows all of that. But the rest is fiction, and clever stuff it is. Producers Nick Barton and Suzanne Mackie, writers Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth and director Nigel Cole have combined to develop a fable rooted in character and firm plot development.
In many ways, "Calendar Girls" is a better movie than "The Full Monty" because it doesn't just take a moment in time and freeze it the way the earlier movie did. For the lads in Sheffield, nothing much was going to change after they stripped off, whereas you have the sense that things will never be quite the same in the village of Knapely -- and for the better.
It's a triumph that there is nothing sniggering or preachy in a film that deals with breaching conventions of decorum and explores how the bonds of marriage and friendship can be tested by acts of freedom and encounters with fame.
The gags will mostly travel well, though only British viewers will truly appreciate a line delivered by one of the husbands over breakfast when he looks up from the country's most hidebound and illiberal newspaper: "You're nude in the Telegraph, dear."
Mirren and Walters play against type very well, with the "Gosford Park" star shedding her often dour screen presence for a lighthearted and captivating performance and the animated star of "Educating Rita" showing a calmer more complex side. They will each be in the running when awards season comes around.
Penelope Wilton is also standout as a devoted wife who discovers that her husband is having an affair, and John Alderton is excellent in the small but crucial role of Annie's dying husband.
Cinematographer Ashley Rowe captures both the beauty and aching loneliness of the Yorkshire countryside and lights the Southern California sequences to heighten the glare of sudden and transitory fame. Patrick Doyle's typically melodic score cannily plays to the landscape of the ladies' minds rather than the cliche of their rural English environment.

Calendar Girls
By Ray Bennett
This review was written for the festival screening of "Calendar Girls."