BBC FILM 2003
" ... 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!"
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
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
" ...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
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.
- 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
- 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.
By Ray Bennett
This review was written for the festival screening of "Calendar