Calendar Girls

Julie Walters, Helen Mirren and Annette Crosbie
Directed by Nigel Cole
Running Time: 108 mins
Rated: M

When they hit the headlines in 1999, the Yorkshire women from the Women's Institute received unexpected publicity for the calendar they produced to raise money for a sofa in the waiting room of the local hospital where the husband of one of the women had died of leukemia. That must seem a long time ago because the headlines were not only local but worldwide. Hollywood came looking and invited them to chat shows and to make commercials - and even to agree to a film about their exploits. Behind the scenes there were difficulties about how they should handle the fame and some breakdowns of long friendships. Here, now is the film version, a blend of the UK and Hollywood with everybody remarking (as I am about to do) that this might be seen as the female version of The Full Monty.

The headlines exaggerated everything, of course. The nude calendar might sound racy, even objectionable, but it was done in fun and the women show very little. It is the humour and the suggestion which make the impact. It is a defence of older women being themselves and a blow against the artificial glamour of commercial photography. It is humour about the body - which does not always go down so well in society which has been strongly influenced by Puritan or Jansenist severity and suspicions of things bodily.

Just as The Full Monty showed out of work men suffering from the social effects of unemployment and did their stripping for a joke, a blend of the humorous with serious social themes, so the Calendar Girls is both funny and serious.

The film shows us Yorkshire village life, the mundane meetings of the Women's Institute, the realities of marriage fidelity and infidelity, families both happy and unhappy, illness and death being persuasively portrayed. When it comes to the calendar, the film moves into cheerful mode (except for the president of the local branch of the WI). It is an unexpectedly huge success. When Hollywood beckons, the film changes gear considerably and the audience is made to feel the exhilaration as well as the over-glitzy exploitation of Los Angeles.

Julie Walters plays the quiet character this time, with Helen Mirren left to do the flamboyant extraversion. There is fine support from several British character actors, Annette Crosbie, Celia Imrie, Linda Bassett and Penelope Wilton. The men don't get much of a look in but are treated sympathetically.

Despite the theme and the hoo-ha, Calendar Girls has its heart in the right place and is a film that you could take most people to - and those you couldn't are perhaps those who ought to see it.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.