Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 104 mins .
PG . PAL
When thought about after having grown up somewhat, those typical children’s bleats of “Are we there yet?”, “But I want it!”, “When can I…?” and similar we all assaulted our Mums with must have been more than trying at times. How nice it is then to have an opportunity to redress some of the karmic balance of late after my Mum cottoned onto the forthcoming release of this film on DVD a few months back. “Is it in yet?” became a common enquiry and guess what Mum? Yes, Calendar Girls has finally arrived for review.
Heavily based on a true story, a sort of real life Full Monty except quite a lot different actually, it is the tale of 11 Yorkshire-based members of the W.I., or ‘Women’s Institute’, a sort of social group cum fundraising type affair, who raise money for leukaemia research via a calendar they feature in - in the nuddy no less.
After Annie (Julie Walters) endures the untimely death of her husband John to the debilitating disease, she wishes to do something to raise money for a new and comfier couch for the family waiting room at the local hospital – a small, but significant, aim. It happens that the time of the year has come when their branch of the W.I. are looking for suggestions as to what to feature on their annual calendar when Annie’s best friend Chris (Helen Mirren) comes up with a brilliant idea based on a speech prepared for their group by John before his death – rather than featuring more boring old churches and bridges, why not do a Pirelli-type calendar featuring various members nude, doing W.I. type things?
Erm, nice buns...
Naturally the idea meets with a mixture of resistance, shock, embarrassment and prudishness, however eventually 11 of them decide they’re game enough and the photo shoot takes place. They order up 500 copies, hoping that all will sell and the dream of the new couch will become a reality.
However, the fruit of their labour gets more attention than they ever expected. Soon press from all over England are on their doorsteps and their calendar is a massive success. It also does a lot more good than they ever imagined, giving hope and inspiration to many, from those who have also lost loved ones to leukaemia and just “older” women in general who admired them for their pluck in doing what they’ve done. There’s also a downside, however, as others in their lives are affected in different ways…
"You’re nude in the Telegraph dear. Oh, can you pass the bacon?"
A run-in with Anthrax...
Calendar Girls lollops along at a rather languid, leisurely pace, yet it never becomes dull or dragging. The story is an inspirational one for ever so many reasons, be it the tackling of those body issues so many of us have or just the depiction of people putting their minds to doing something for the greater good and having it succeed beyond theirs – or anybody’s - expectations. The main cast have been fabulously chosen, exhibiting a camaraderie that’s both convincing and infectious, in what may appear to some to be an “old folks” film, but transcends into being just one of the sweetest, most enjoyable and tenderly funny “feel good” movies of recent years.
Beautifully cinematic in all it’s 2.35:1 (anamorphically enhanced) glory, Calendar Girls comes to DVD looking almost as perfect as it can get. Almost in that occasional outbreaks of shimmer and a rather ham-fisted placement of the layer change are all that sully an otherwise glorious transfer.
Putting aside those minor grievances, the rich colour of the English countryside bursts from the screen, more than holding its own against the glitz of a later foray to the streets of Hollywood. Detail is always at a premium, be it of the general or shadow variety, black levels are spot-on and flesh tones are delightfully, well, English.
Afforded a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, this is one talky film that actually uses the format subtly but ever so effectively. Gentle ambience springs forth smoothly from the rears, while the odd thunk and thump lets us know the subwoofwoof is certainly paying attention. Patrick Doyle’s score, featuring everything from Knopfler-like guitar twangs to lusher orchestral numbers, sits neatly where it should, bolstering the film without ever drowning out the ever-so-English dialogue. This is bolstered by a selection of classic blues and soul tracks, plus an instrumental version of one of the Beach Boys’ finest tunes, Sloop John B.
While the menus look quite pleasant, some may find the extended transitions a tad bothersome. Otherwise, a few extras have been added for our enjoyment, a couple of which are brief but very informative.
Two featurettes are first on the menu. The Naked Truth leads the way, a look at the 11 women who the movie is based on and just what they accomplished. Told through interviews with most of them along with input from some of the movie-making folk, it’s 15 minutes that anybody who enjoys the film will really want to see. The second, Creating the Calendar (6:26), is more movie-based, concentrating on interviews about the production, with a focus on the creation of calendar shots inspired by the originals. Both of these come in 1.78:1, 16:9 enhanced format.
Four deleted scenes are next, totalling 5:35 and presented in 2:35:1 letterboxed within a 4:3 frame. The final cut suffers little for their exclusion, although some may find the extra footage of the girls with hardcore band Anthrax quite amusing. Information on the UK-based Leukaemia Research organisation completes proceedings and includes a web link.
The leisurely pace and subject matter of Calendar Girls won’t be everybody’s cup of tea (and a scone), however anybody who enjoys a sweet and well-crafted, gently humorous tale of unexpected success is guaranteed much to treasure. Video is superb bar a couple of minor quibbles, audio is more than up to the task and while extras are meagre, the quality of the first featurette in particular easily counters the inclusion of quantity just for the sake of it. Mind you, the lack of a trailer is an annoying yet regular Buena Vista-inflicted frustration.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "