Directed by: Nigel Cole
Written by:Tim Firth, Juliette Towhidi
Starring: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Ciaran Hinds, Philip Glenister, Linda Bassett, Penelope Wilton
Released: October 9, 2003
Grade: B+

During the first half of Calendar Girls I made a mental note that I must describe this as a “hidden, feel-good gem”.  We’re looking at a group of experienced actresses having fun delivering lines from a script inspired by a remarkable true story.  The audience was in hysterics and I too found myself laughing at some of the comical scenes.

It’s the story of best friends Annie (Walters) and Chris (Mirren) who have to go through the tragedy of seeing Annie’s husband lose a short battle with cancer.  It’s the worst moment in Annie’s life but she wants to create something positive from the situation.  The couch in the waiting room of the hospital is dreadful and she’d like to raise a thousand pounds to pay for a new couch to make those anxious moments a little more comfortable for anyone else who comes through.

The local women’s group, known as the Rylstone Women’s Institute, always makes an annual calendar with pictures of scenic views and other standard photos.  Chris uses this concept but with a twist – she wants to make a calendar only this one will feature photos of the elderly ladies from the group in all their naked glory.

Yes, this is a true story and if the calendar were a dreadful failure, I wouldn’t be here typing a review right now.  What Annie and Chris created was a calendar that would sell all over the globe and in over $1,000,000 has been raised to date.  Not only did this money pay for the couch but it paid for a new leukaemia wing at the hospital and it changed all these ladies’ lives forever.

It’s a delightful story but the film loses its way in the final half which is an unfortunate shame.  Despite her successes with the calendar, Chris has troubles at home with a husband who misses her and a son who needs her.  This aspect is looked at but not explored.  It’s glazed over to the detriment of these characters and you start to realise this whole production has been well and truly glossed up to make it more appealing.  There’s a passage in the film in America where the girls all appear on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno (who does make a cameo) – it adds zero to the story and halts any emotion and momentum.

Academy award nominated actors Helen Mirren and Julie Walters light up the screen and do shine in these roles.  I haven’t seen the real calendar but I don’t think the ladies that posed would have looked quite as good as these two.  95% of the audience at my screening were women and they simply loved Annie and Chris.  A bad word was not spoken by anyone leaving the cinema and it will brighten the day of any patron.