In 1999, eleven members of the District Women's Institute in Rylstone, North Yorkshire, England posed starkers on a year 2000 calendar printed up to collect funds to benefit leukemia research after the death of John Baker, Assistant National Park Officer for the Yorkshire Dales and husband of WI member Angela, of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1998. What made the venture unusual was that the models were all just local ladies in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the UK, 88,000 copies were eventually sold, and 250,000 in the States. CALENDAR GIRLS, based on this story, has been characterized by a principal as about 75% accurate in the re-telling, with the remainder being scriptwriter's embellishment for comedic or dramatic effect. The original idea for the calendar was suggested by Angela's friend, Tricia Stewart.
In the film adaptation, Helen Mirren plays Chris Harper (based on real-life Tricia Stewart) and Julie Walters and John Alderton play Annie and John Clark respectively (based on Angela and John Baker). The calendar saga, from conception to realization and international fame, is centered in the fictional village of Knapley. Harper originally gets the idea after 1) finding a soft porn magazine hidden in her teenage son's room and 2) noticing a girlie calendar on the wall of a village shop. The plan is to produce and sell 500 copies of the calendar to raise the 900 pounds necessary to buy a new sofa for the Relatives' Waiting Room in the local hospital in which John Clark died of his disease. Not only must Chris and Annie surmount the understandable reluctance of their friends and fellow WI members to pose nude (not "naked"), but also convince the chairwomen of the District and National WI that the reputation of the organization won't be sullied.
There is, of course, some nudity in the film, but, as on the calendar itself, it's discreetly done. The naughty bits are strategically hidden by sticky buns, flowering plants, and such. But enough of Helen Mirren is seen for the viewer to realize that physical beauty and maturity of "that certain age" are not mutually incompatible.
Though the script touches on such sober subjects as teenage drug use and spousal infidelity, the film as a whole is delightfully witty, charming, warm, and poignant. And then there are the beautiful Yorkshire towns and fells in which the movie was shot. Is this one of the year's best films? No. Is it a great cinematic achievement? No again. But, I'm giving it five stars anyway because, as an entertainment vehicle, it's everything I ask for when I go to a motion picture show. I sat and watched with a silly smile on my face for almost the entire run time, and left the cinema in no way unsatisfied. What more could one reasonably want?