<I>Calendar Girls</i> is a small and lovely film. Terrific English actresses Helen Mirren and Julie Walters star as Chris and Annie, best friends from a small village in the Yorkshire Dales whose pleasant lives are shattered when Annie's husband dies of leukemia. When Chris (Mirren) suggests that the local Women's Institute calendar feature topless photos to raise money for charity, not only the local chapter of the WI but the entire community is thrown into a tizzy.
Nude pictures of middle-aged women! The idea of it is not terribly shocking, but what is pleasing is how beautiful these women are in the buff. (Or the implied buff--you don't get to see anything since views of middle-aged cleavage are obstructed by sunflowers and rolling pins.) It's not only the pedigreed leading ladies who are a pleasure to behold. Supporting actresses Linda Basset, Celia Imrie, Annette Crosbie, and Penelope Wilton are also appealing: wrinkles, sagging breasts, and matronly hair cuts notwithstanding.
It's no surprise that the calendar becomes a huge success. Problems, naturally, ensue, after the women are whisked off to Hollywood. The evils of celebrity must be faced, but like in most heart-warming movies, they get resolved. The film is based on a true story, but the charm of <I>Calendar Girls</i> lies in its characters. Helen Mirren, so grim and dour in recent roles in "Gosford Park
" and "Prime Detective," is positively mischievous as Chris. A more sedate Julie Walter exudes just enough so that her grief is properly felt but is not taken advantage of for easy sentiment. Both Nigel Cole's direction and Tim Firth's screenplay have a light touch, steering this delightful film clear of the pitfalls of many a heart-warming drama.