It is rare that nudity in a film is so poignant but in Calendar Girls it is the raison d’etre. The film’s portrayal of the real-life Women’s Institute members who became a media phenomenon by stripping off for charity is moving and inspiring, thanks to some superb acting and the sensitive directing of Nigel Cole, whose previous credits include Saving Grace and television’s Cold Feet.
Calendar Girls tells the story of WI members and best friends Chris and Annie from the quiet Yorkshire village of Knapely. After Annie (Julie Walters) loses her husband John (John Alderton) to leukaemia, reluctant WI member Chris (Helen Mirren) comes up with the idea to produce an alternative WI calendar to raise money for the hospital that treated her friend’s husband.
The alternative part of the calendar is that Chris, Annie and their WI friends pose nude – a different woman for each month. After some persuasion, Chris and Annie roped in enough friends, secured some sponsorship and found a suitable photographer and voila, a calendar was born.
The calendar swiftly turned into a media darling and generated levels of success that none of the women could ever have predicted. The film charts the women’s journey to success looking at the positive and negative effects of the limelight on the women’s lives and friendships. This is not simply a movie about the unexpected achievements of an unlikely group of people but it is a film about courage, friendship, grief and loyalty, told with a generous sprinkling of humour.
At times the script did feel a little clichd and a shade sentimental. However, the fact that the plot was derived from a true story detracted from this as did the sterling acting displayed by the whole cast. When strong actresses like Geraldine James and Celia Imrie are playing small roles it speaks volumes.
Despite playing against type Helen Mirren and Julie Walters confirmed yet again that they are two of the most talented British actresses working today and the chemistry between them was perfect. Although his appearance was brief, John Alderton’s performance as Annie’s dying husband was both moving and warm.
The actors were of course helped by the soaring landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, which was shot beautifully. The scenes shot in the United States, which looked shallow and vacant in comparison, highlighted the natural beauty of the British countryside further.
In an age where talented actresses of a certain age are constantly complaining about unimaginative casting, it is a joy to see a film embrace the more mature woman in such a positive way. And just like the line in the film in which John says that the last stage of the flower is the best, in Calendar Girls women have never looked so beautiful.