They dropped everything for a good cause.
A piano rendition of that rousing signature tune of British institutions, 'Jerusalem', to which the good members of the Women's Institute are adding their stout voices, is how the film opens. Near the back row, Chris Harper (Mirren) is sitting with her friend Annie Clarke (Walters). The Chairperson, Marie (Geraldine James) earnestly tells them how interesting the next talk, on carpets, will be. “Thank God,” mutters Chris. “For a minute there I thought it was going to be dull.”
When Annie's husband John (John Alderton) falls ill with leukaemia and she and Chris have to spend hours waiting in the hospital waiting room on a sofa designed to maximise the discomfort of waiting relatives, raising money for a new one is just another suggestion for the proceeds from the next W.I. calendar. In his hospital bed, John jokingly suggests that the women of the Institute themselves pose for the calendar, and it is his speech about his job and life, which, when it is delivered to the W.I. after his funeral, inspires an outrageous possibility.
"The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage has its own beauty but the last stage is the most glorious - then very quickly they all go to seed!" It's greeted with laughter, but several weeks later a few of the ladies have drunk enough wine to blur the difference between being 'naked' and 'nude' and strip off in various tasteful poses involving flowers, fruit, cream buns and piano playing.
In the whirlwind following the immediate success of the calendar there are amusing situations as the ladies and their families adjust to instant fame, interviews, unscrupulous reporters, gossip as well as approval, and an offer from Hollywood. The issue of raising enough money for the Leeds General Infirmary Relatives' Room couch is as quickly surpassed as the original number of 500 issues for which Chris had to beg for sponsorship.
It's a great story, not least because it is a real event: the ladies of the W.I. raised £578,000 for leukaemia research and a Unit at Leeds General Infirmary is named after John Baker, who inspired them all. The entire cast and especially the women shine warmly as real people and the inspiration they gave to thousands of women will continue and spread as a result of this film.
Overall, Calendar Girls is a triumph.
Screenings of this film:
|2003/2004 Spring Term – (35mm)|