Film Review: Calendar Girls (2003)

“I can’t knit or make plum jam, but I can make a bloody victoria sponge…Of course I didn’t make this one, I got it from Marks and Spencer”

I managed to resist the temptation to go and see the stage version of Calendar Girls, the prospect of it never really appealed and though it has now started appearing with regularity on the touring circuit, I still haven’t worked enough desire to make the effort. When the film appeared on the television though in a post-turkey leftovers dinner haze, I couldn’t find the remote and so ended up watching it. I seem to remember quite liking it in the cinema, but something obviously didn’t settle too well in my memory as I’d never revisited on DVD or TV, never mind on stage, despite its epic cast of dames to be.

For much like with The King’s Speech, the feel-good factor that comes from the first viewing just evaporated and what was left was, to me at least, a rather thin film, of limited characterisation and what little there is feels laboured and contrived. A problem I guess that results from trying to dramatise a real life story, but one which felt rather exposed when rewatching the film.

A curse of liking so many actresses is that I am constantly left wanting more when they are relegated to supporting roles and that is the case several times over here. The likes of Celia Imrie, Linda Bassett and Annette Crosbie are pretty much left on the sidelines, with little or no real detail given to their characters and so they end up becoming filler, as does Geraldine James’ formidable WI leader. But, even when stories do emerge, they felt perfunctory and not really explored deeply enough. Penelope Wilton tries her best with the downtrodden Ruth but isn’t given enough to really work with, but the main problem for me was how unlikeable Helen Mirren’s Chris ended up being.

I suppose the aim was to demonstrate how the whole enterprise, of setting up the nude calendar to raise funds for the cancer hospital where her best friend’s husband was cared for and then ensuring it got the widest publicity possible, gave Chris a new purpose in life, to stretch her wings, but the way in which she does it tramples all over the needs of those closest to her: her troubled son who starts acting out with drugs, her husband who is left frustrated and even her best friend who feels the whole point of the exercise has been lost. Such selfishness, as it came across to me, is the type of thing I find hard to like and the attempts to rationalise, as she is forgiven by all and sundry without ever really deserving it, really stuck in the craw.

Maybe part of it was the gruffness of Mirren’s acting which never really convinced me – further pointed up by the subtly sympathetic work by Julie Walters as the grieving Annie – but in the end, I think I knew what I was doing steering clear of this story, and should have tried harder to locate that remote control.

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