Calendar Girls is a 2003 British comedy film directed by Nigel Cole. Produced by Buena Vista International and Touchstone Pictures, it features a screenplay by Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi based on a true story of a group of middle-aged Yorkshire women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research under the auspices of the Women's Institutes in April 1999 after the cancer death of one of their members' husband. The film stars an ensemble cast headed by Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, with Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Geraldine James and Philip Glenister playing key supporting roles.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nigel Cole|
|Produced by||Nick Barton|
|Written by||Tim Firth|
|Music by||Patrick Doyle|
|Edited by||Michael Parker|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$96.5 million|
Calendar Girls premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and was later shown at Filmfest Hamburg, the Dinard Festival of British Cinema in France, the Warsaw Film Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival and the UK Film Festival in Hong Kong. It garnered generally positive reactions by film critics, who compared with British comedy film The Full Monty (1997). At a budget of $10 million it also became a major commercial success, eventually grossing $96,000,000 worldwide following its theatrical release in the United States. In addition, the picture was awarded the British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Film, and spawned ALFS Award, Empire Award, Satellite Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Mirren and Walters respectively.
Annie Clarke and Chris Harper live in the village of Knapely, where they spend their time at the local WI and with each other. Annie's husband, John, is suddenly diagnosed with leukemia and Chris visits John and Annie at the hospital regularly, often complaining bitterly about the uncomfortable couch in the waiting room. After noticing a "girlie" calendar in a local shop, she hits upon the idea of printing a calendar featuring some of the members of the Knapely branch of the Women's Institute discreetly posing nude while engaged in traditional WI activities, such as baking and knitting, in order to raise funds. Her proposal initially is met with great skepticism, but she eventually convinces ten women to participate in the project with her. They enlist one of the hospital workers, an amateur photographer named Lawrence, to help them with the concept.
The head of the local Women's Institute branch refuses to sanction the calendar, so Chris and Annie go to a national congress of the Women's Institute in London to plead their case. They are told the final decision rests with the local leader, who grudgingly agrees to the calendar's sale. The initial printing quickly sells out due to popular demand which causes a huge wave of massive media attention from across the nation.
The women are invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in Los Angeles. All the publicity surrounding the calendar has taken a toll on their personal lives and, during a photo shoot for washing powder, the tension boils over, with Chris and Annie lashing out at each other in angry frustration. Annie accuses Chris of ignoring her husband and son and the demands of the family business in favour of her newfound celebrity, while Chris believes Annie welcomes the Mother Teresa-like status to which she's been elevated that allows her to cater to the ill and bereaved who have bombarded her with fan mail. All is resolved eventually, and the women return home to resume life as it was before they removed their clothing for the camera.
- Helen Mirren as Chris Harper, the driving force behind the idea of stripping off for the local Women's Institute calendar.
- Julie Walters as Annie Clarke, Chris's best friend whose husband John's leukemia death serves as the basis for her friend's idea to purchase a sofa for hospital visitors in remembrance of him.
- Linda Bassett as Cora, a shop owner and divorced single mother. She is the official organist of the Knapely WI.
- Annette Crosbie as Jessie, a retired teacher.
- Celia Imrie as Celia, a major's wife.
- Penelope Wilton as Ruth Reynoldson, a carpet dealer's housewife. Wilton initially rejected the offer to join the project as she refused to be filmed semi-naked.
- Geraldine James as Marie, chairwoman of the Knapely WI group.
- Philip Glenister as Lawrence Sertain, John Clarke's nurse and photographer of the calendar, based on photographer Terry Logan.
- Ciarán Hinds as Rod Harper, Chris's husband, a florist.
- John Alderton as John Clarke, Annie's husband, who dies from leukaemia.
- George Costigan as Eddie Reynoldson, Ruth's husband.
- John-Paul Macleod as Jem Harper, Chris and Rod's son.
The film's fellow calendar girls include Georgie Glen, Angela Curran, Rosalind March, Lesley Staples and Janet Howd as Kathy, May, Truday, Julia and Jenny respectively. Calendar Girls also cast Graham Crowden as Jesse's husband Richard, Belinda Everett as Cora's daughter Maya, Marc Pickering as Jem Harper's friend Gaz and Harriet Thorpe as WI president Brenda Mooney. Gillian Wright appears as Eddie Reynoldson's lover, while John Sharian plays an American commercial director named Danny. In addition actors and actresses Richard Braine, Ted Robbins, Alison Pargeter, Angus Barnett, John Sparkes, Elizabeth Bennett, Christa Ackroyd, Matt Malloy, Patton Oswalt and John Fortune appear in short roles. American television host Jay Leno appears as himself in the film during the ladies' visit to California; they also encounter the American heavy metal band Anthrax while relaxing by the pool.
The fundraising phenomenon of the Calendar Girls was inspired by the death of Angela Baker's husband John Richard Baker, an Assistant National Park Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, who died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 54 in 1998. During his illness, Bakers's friends began to raise money, initially with the aim of purchasing a sofa for the visitors' lounge in the hospital where John was treated. Nothing could have prepared them for the way their original calendar took off. To date, they have raised over £3 million for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, the UK's leading blood cancer charity.
The photos for the 2000 Alternative WI Calendar, as it was named, were taken by Terry Logan, a former professional photographer who was married to one of the models. It was released on 12 April 1999 and became a runaway success, selling out in the first week. 10,000 additional copies were printed, all of which were sold within three weeks. Nine months after its launch, the calendar had sold 88,000 copies. It then was adapted for an American version covering June 2000 - December 2001. The ladies were invited to appear with Jay Leno and Rosie O'Donnell on their respective talk shows. That year the calendar sold 202,000 copies, with its proceeds being used to fund lymphoma and leukaemia research in new laboratories at the University of Leeds.
Since 2000, the Calendar Girls have produced calendars for 2004, 2005, 2007 and a recipe calendar for 2008 with their favourite Yorkshire recipes on the back of each month. Ten years on, they launched a 2010 calendar with a new set of full colour images and the aim of raising £2 million for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. In addition, they have released a range of merchandise in aid of the charity throughout the years.
Six of the eleven women who were pictured in the original calendar sold the rights to their stories, including Angela Baker, Tricia Stewart, Beryl Bamforth, Lynda Logan, Christine Clancy and Ros Fawcett. By the time screenwriter Tim Firth was consulted to produce a script about the creation of the WI calendar, a previous script had been attempted, a predatory strike had made on the film company and the women’s group of eleven had split in half. Writing was inspired by Firth's knowledge of the North Yorkshire area, him having bought the calendar from one of the women without realising it whilst on holiday, and from the experience of a family whose women had all been members of the WI. He did not meet the real women until after the script was written.
Nigel Cole, known for his screen debut Saving Grace (2000), starring Brenda Blethyn, was hired as the film's director. With Cole taking over directing duties, he reached out to Julie Walters and Helen Mirren to play the lead roles in the film. Both actresses had been aware of the WI calendar backstory. Based on Baker, Walters was Cole's first choice to play the "more quiet and sensitive" role of Annie. Known for her comedic roles, Walters initially thought Cole had accidentally offered her the wrong part, and although pleased to have been cast against stereotype, she considered the role "a difficult path to trap" while striking a balance between Annie's grief and humorous moments. As a result, she was heavily involved in the modification of several scenes. Mirren was initially hesitant to sign on to the project because she considered it "too English" and disliked the idea of a "poor woman's Full Monty." Upon learning that Walters and other colleagues had signed on, however, she rethought her original decision and accepted the offer. Modelled after Stewart, Mirren has described Chris as a "dash in"—character who shared similarities with Stewart but was actually not based on her real persona. Anne Reid was also offered a major role in Calendar Girls, but choose to do Roger Michell's The Mother (2003) instead. With Calendar Girls being rare for a film to focus on middle-aged women, while not just portraying them as mothers or aunts, Cole experienced difficulties with casting the male roles: Several actors disliked the idea of being subsidiary to women."
Filming took place in the summer of 2002. Whereas the actual Calendar Girls were members of the Rylstone Women's Institute, much of the film was shot in and around the village of Kettlewell in North Yorkshire, some ten miles away, which stood in for the fictional village of Knapely. Additional locations include Buckden, Burnsall, Coniston, Ilkley, Settle, Linton, Malham, Skipton, Westminster and Ealing in London, and the beach in Santa Monica. The penultimate shot of lead characters Chris and Annie walking down a street was filmed in Turville. Interiors were filmed in the Shepperton Studios in Surrey.
The pictures in the film-version calendar were taken by professional stills photographer Jaap Buitendijk. Filming of the nude scenes took a week. According to Cole, the actors were struck by group spirit when they met their real-life counterparts from the Women’s Institute and experienced the supportive atmosphere that had got them all through the embarrassment of taking their clothes off to make a calendar. That same spirit started to show on set, with the cast becoming determined to be nude, even when it was not requested for filming, including face shots. While Cole and his team placed vegetables strategically for shooting, bits kept showing through and they had to reshoot several scenes. However, a young man from digital remastering had to spend four weeks removing all the private parts in post-production. The actors very supportive of each other, with a bottle of champagne waiting whenever anyone finished their nude scene.
Hollywood Records was announced as the distributor of the soundtrack album for Calendar Girs which featured sixteen songs, including "You Upset Me Baby" performed by B.B. King, "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys, "The Way You Do the Things You Do" by The Temptations, and "Comin' Home Baby" by Roland Kirk and Quincy Jones. It was released on 9 December 2003 in the United Kingdom.
|1.||"I Find Your Love" (Patrick Doyle featuring Beth Nielsen Chapman)||2:28|
|2.||"Jerusalem" (Patrick Doyle featuring Knapley Women's Club)||2:09|
|3.||"The Funeral" (Patrick Doyle)||1:02|
|4.||"Fantastic Tits" (Patrick Doyle)||2:15|
|5.||"March" (Patrick Doyle)||1:18|
|6.||"Bra's Off" (Patrick Doyle)||1:38|
|7.||"Sponsorship" (Patrick Doyle)||1:28|
|8.||"The Press" (Patrick Doyle)||1:34|
|9.||"Letters" (Patrick Doyle)||1:16|
|10.||"One More Hour" (Patrick Doyle)||2:33|
|11.||"Jerusalem" (Patrick Doyle)||1:20|
|12.||"The Way You Do the Things You Do" (The Temptations)||2:41|
|13.||"You Upset Me, Baby" (B.B. King)||3:01|
|14.||"Comin' Home Baby" (Roland Kirk & Quincy Jones)||2:48|
|15.||"Ride Your Pony" (The Meters)||3:18|
|16.||"Find Another Way" (Mornin' Norman)||3:17|
The film received positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 75% of critics gave the film a positive rating, based on 123 reviews, with an average score of 6.5/10. Its consensus states "A charming, but cliched comedy reminiscent of The Full Monty." On Metacritic, which uses a normalized rating system, the film holds a 60/100 rating, based on 30 reviews, indicating "generally favourable reviews".
Ruthe Stein, writing for The San Francisco Chronicle, said it is "A charming movie [that] should appeal to fans of The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine — and not just because they also featured nudity that made you smile instead of smirk. The films share a wonderfully British wry humor. They're not laugh-out-loud funny, but there's quite a bit to amuse you when thinking about the scenes later." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "It's the kind of sweet, good-humored comedy that used to star Margaret Rutherford, although Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, its daring top-liners, would have curled Dame Margaret's eyebrows [...] That the movie works, and it does, is mostly because of the charm of Mirren and Walters, who show their characters having so much fun that it becomes infectious."
In his review for The New York Times, Elvis Mitchell called "minty-cool" Helen Mirren and "deft" Julie Walters "a graceful pair of troupers" and "a sunny, amusing team." He described the film as "yet another professionally acted and staged wry-crisp comedy about British modesty [...] that gets its laughs, but seems increasingly out of date [...] When the biggest compliment you can pay a picture is that it is professional and not smug, there's a little something missing, like invention." Manohla Dargis of The Los Angeles Times said the film "is closer in texture and consistency to individually wrapped American cheese than good, tangy English Cheddar. But even humble plastic-wrapped cheese has its virtues and so does this film [...] Chief among those graces are Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, two well-matched and criminally underused actresses [...] Although they have little to do but grin and bare it, Mirren and Walters are delightful company."
In Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, who graded the film B+, compared Calendar Girls with other British comedy films such as Billy Elliot and Saving Grace. She commented that "[It] is the first export from the light-comedy-steamroller division of the British film industry that avoids, for the most part, the kind of queasy class condescension such hell-bent charmers have relied on since unemployed steel-mill workers shook their groove thangs in The Full Monty." Variety critic Derek Elley wrote that the film "delivers very likable, if sometimes dramatically wobbly, results". He found that "though the film is never dull, and playing by the cast is spirited, it's actually a surprisingly gentle movie [...] The humor has a typically British, offhanded flavor, and the essentially simple story plays more as a multi-character rondo on a single idea. For every laugh-out-loud moment, or eccentric touch, there are equal moments of reflection and pause [...] Despite an uncertain start in establishing a consistent comic tone, pic builds into an engaging, light character comedy, played somewhere between the Ealing tradition and contempo regional comedy."
In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw rated the film three out of a possible five stars and added, "This genial comedy, directed by Nigel Cole, with an excellent, tightly constructed script by Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi, accentuates the positive. There's lots of wit and pluck and not much heartbreak," and Mark Kermode of The Observer said, "When the film succeeds, as it does magnificently in the first two-thirds, one can only marvel at the miracle of a world in which such plotlines could literally land on a producer's doorstep with the morning papers. When it fails, it is the film's acknowledgment of its own big-screen inevitability that is to blame. The result is half a great British screen comedy, twice as much as one usually expects from the genre nowadays ... Ultimately, however, this remains an immensely likeable and often impressive romp."
|ALFS Awards||Actress of the Year||Helen Mirren||Nominated|
|Actress of the Year||Julie Walters||Nominated|
|Supporting Actor of the Year||John Alderton||Nominated|
|British Comedy Awards||Best Comedy Film||Nigel Cole||Won|
|British Independent Film Awards||Best Screenplay||Tim Firth, Juliette Towhidi||Nominated|
|Empire Awards||Empire Award for Best British Film||Sally Hawkins||Nominated|
|Empire Award for Best British Actress||Helen Mirren||Nominated|
|Empire Award for Best British Actress||Julie Waiters||Nominated|
|European Film Awards||Best Actress||Helen Mirren||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical||Helen Mirren||Nominated|
|Satellite Awards||Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy||Helen Mirren||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture||Julie Walters||Nominated|
|Tokyo International Film Festival||Tokyo Grand Prix||Nigel Cole||Nominated|
A stage play based on the film opened in 2008 as part of the Chichester Theatre Festival. It subsequently transferred to the West End.
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