Chris and Annie are two of the more rebellious women of the Knapely W.I. When Annie's husband's dies of leukaemia, Chris comes up with the novel idea of cajoling fellow members into posing for a calendar to raise money for leukaemia research - but the catch is, they'll pose naked.
The true story of the Yorkshire Women's Institute members who stripped for charity was crying out for cinematic treatment. A female alternative to The Full Monty would be welcome news to tabloids, not to mention the many actresses decrying the lack of decent parts for ladies of a certain age. And whatever criticisms are levelled at the resulting movie, there can be no complaints about 'decent female parts' in both senses of the phrase.
The cast is faultless, with Julie Walters and Helen Mirren both playing against type. Mirren, as the voluble instigator of the calendar, is softer and more extrovert than usual, while Walters brings a gentle restraint to the recently bereaved Annie, but still retains some much- needed humour. The warmth of friendship portrayed in this close-knit community is genuine and gives the film moments of real resonance. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, as well as real tear-wellers, such as when letters from similarly bereaved women start to flood in to the 'calendar girls'.
It's clear that the filmmakers wanted to portray what happened to this group of women with respect and integrity. However, it is this vital aspect that makes the last third of the film such dull viewing. The natural climax would seem to fall at the moment Annie and Chris first realise the calendar's impact, walking into a room full of camera-flashing press corps. But the story continues beyond this, trying to show the impact of its success on the women involved, and on Annie and Chris' friendship in particular. An extended trip to America seems to be tagged on for the benefit of overseas audiences, and minor character arcs are lost in what follows.
There is no doubt that Calendar Girls is appealing, but there is a lingering sense of dissatisfaction with its conclusion, which seems so unnecessary given the high-points that have occurred before.
While Calendar Girls will still have Daily Mail readers quivering with excitement behind their newspapers and will thrill older audiences, an unnecessary third act stops the film being a crowdpleaser for all generations.