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Middle-aged best friends Annie Clarke (Julie Walters) and Chris Haper (Helen Mirren) belong to a branch of the Women's Institute in North Yorkshire. Their lives change when Annie's husband John (John Alderton) dies of leukemia. Feeling the need to do something positive, Annie and Chris come up with the idea of producing a nude calendar that subverts the conservative image of Women's Institute activities. Hoping just to raise a few pounds for the local hospital, Annie and Chris are amazed when the calendar and its models become national media sensations. Success takes them to Hollywood where the Calendar Girls appear on the Jay Leno Show. A rift develops when Annie accuses Chris of selling out to commercialism and Chris accuses Annie of becoming obsessed with her grieving widow status. 

Review by Richard Kuipers:
When it comes to extracting humour from embarrassment about naked bodies and gender roles, no-one does it better than the British. All that class-consciousness and stitched-up repression worked wonders for The Full Monty and Billy Elliott and is used to winning effect in the mostly delightful Calendar Girls. 

By observing the unwritten law that demands Julie Walters be present whenever cameras roll in Yorkshire and surrounding her with a dream cast of British character actresses, Calendar Girls succeeds in being funny and moving until it flies off to Hollywood for a somewhat disappointing final reel. Until then, this is warm-hearted and touching as the two rebels decide there has to be more to life in the Women's Institute than lectures on the history of broccoli and cake-baking competitions. Like most good comedies, this one is driven by an underlying sadness that gives purpose to the humour. John Alderton is only on screen briefly as Annie's dying husband John but his heroic and dignified spirit remains present in everything that follows. The connection between his brave exit and the women's courage in taking their clothes off is one of the great strengths of Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi's screenplay. 

With its heart and soul firmly in place in the opening stanzas, director Nigel Cole lets these fabulous females loose and the results are glorious for about an hour. Mirren - with a long and distinguished body of nude work in her resume - revels in the conditions as a fifty-something tantalised by the thought of being sexy and glamorous again. Walters is the perfect foil as the stoic, gutsy Annie and supporting cast members Linda Bassett, Penelope Wilton, Annette Crosbie and Celia Imre are perfect as the accomplices. Although the men don't get much of a look-in (and why should they in this case) Ciaran Hinds is wonderfully sympathetic as Chris' husband Rod and the great veteran Graham Crowden scores one of the best lines when he opens a newspaper at the breakfast table with wife Jesse (Annette Crosbie). It's a small moment but achingly funny and indicative of the generous spirit at work in this crowd-pleaser. Once the women become media celebrities the film dips noticeably. 

A trip to Hollywood to appear on the Jay Leno show and a few nasty encounters with commercial exploitation of their fame strips much of the Yorkshire feeling away. A rift between Annie and Chris looks tacked on simply to manufacture conflict that will inevitably be resolved in a warm and fuzzy glow. It's as if the script itself is succumbing to the kind of contrived situations a Hollywood version of the same story might have produced. The LA segments hurt but do not ruin Calendar Girls. The film has established such goodwill that it's able to survive the trough and land safely back in Yorkshire for the final chapter in an irrepressibly charming tale. The real women of Rylstone and District Women's Institute (all names and places have been changed in the film) raised over £600,000 for medical research. This is a fitting and funny tribute to their courage. 

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:
Bonus material includes four deleted scenes, a 15 minute featurette called The Naked Truth in which the real-life Calendar Girls talk about their involvement with the Women’s Institute and the events that changed their lives. Highlight is the Creating the Calendar featurette, in which director Nigel Cole and the actresses talk about the nude scene and how they felt about baring all.

Published April 15, 2004

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CAST: Helen Mirren, Merryn Owen, Ted Robbins, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Ciarán Hinds, Celia Imrie, Geraldine James, Ciaran Hinds

DIRECTOR: Nigel Cole

SCRIPT: Tim Firth, Juliette Towhidi

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen; aspect ratio 2.35:1; audio languages English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; subtitle languages English, French, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Portuguese, Dutch, Estonian

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Naked Truth Featurette; Creating The Calendar featurette; Deleted Scenes


DVD RELEASE: April 7, 2004

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