Shirley Valentine (film)

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Shirley Valentine
ShirleyValentineMovie Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay by Willy Russell
Based on Shirley Valentine (play) 
by Willy Russell
Starring Pauline Collins
Tom Conti
Alison Steadman
Julia McKenzie
Joanna Lumley
Music by Willy Russell
Cinematography Alan Hume
Edited by Lesley Walker
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • 30 August 1989 (1989-08-30) (US)
  • 27 October 1989 (1989-10-27) (UK)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $6,353,913

Shirley Valentine is an award-winning 1989 British romantic comedy-drama film directed by Lewis Gilbert. The screenplay by Willy Russell is based on his 1986 one-character play of the same title, which follows middle aged Shirley Valentine in an unexpected discovery of herself, and rekindling of her childhood dreams and youthful love of life.

Pauline Collins recaps the titular lead role as middle-aged housewife Shirley, which she had previously played in the stage production in London's West End and on Broadway, and Tom Conti plays Costas Dimitriades, the owner of a Greek tavern with whom she has a holiday romance.

Plot[edit]

Shirley Valentine is a 42[1]-year-old Liverpudlian bored housewife whose life and initially enriching marriage has settled into a narrow and unsatisfying rut, leaving few real friends and her childhood dreams unaccomplished. When her flamboyant friend Jane (Alison Steadman) wins a trip for two to Greece, Shirley uncharacteristically puts herself first and accepts her invitation.

Shirley feels considerable self-doubt, and ultimately only goes because of unexpected encouragement from her neighbour Gillian (Julia McKenzie) who drops her air of superiority to reveal her respect and emotional support of Shirley's plans, and former school enemy Marjorie Majors (Joanna Lumley) who reveals she had in fact been envious of Shirley's rebellious role at school, and had become a high class prostitute rather than a prestigious air hostess.

Upon arrival Jane immediately abandons her for a holiday romance with a fellow passenger from their flight, leaving Shirley to set out on her own. She begins to see her fellow holidaymakers through new eyes, as she genuinely enjoys Greece while they want English food and stereotypical entertainment. She remains contentedly alone until she meets Costas Dimitriades (Tom Conti), the owner of a nearby tavern, who helps her fulfil a childhood dream of drinking wine by the seashore] in the country the grapes were grown, and later invites her to travel around the nearby islands for a day on his brother's boat. Costas promises not to try to seduce her, while nonetheless bolstering her self-confidence in her own attractiveness ("You think I want to make fuck with you? Of course I want to make fuck with you. But boat is boat, and fuck is fuck.")

As Shirley prepares for the trip, Jane returns and begs for forgiveness for abandoning her; Jane is then stunned to find that Shirley has made plans on her own and will be going out with Costas imminently. Enjoying the day out, Shirley decides to swim in the sea; lacking a swimsuit she swims naked instead with Costas joining her in the water. She realizes that she doesn't want Costas to keep his promise. They kiss and later on the boat have very intense sex.

On her return, Jane believes that Shirley has fallen in love with Costas, but Shirley reveals to the camera that she's fallen in love with the idea of living. She spends more time with Costas, and at the airport turns back, and walks to Costas's tavern to find him attempting to seduce another tourist the same way. Costas is shocked to see Shirley after her departure, but she says she wants a job and is not upset at catching him in the act.

Shirley's husband, who was angry and confused at her departure, waits for her return with a large armful of flowers. He is shocked and embarrassed to find Shirley chose to stay and isn't on the plane, and repeatedly calls her, pleading and arguing for her to return, saying that it is her place and she is embarrassing him, or telling her that her actions result from a mid-life crisis or menopause.

Shirley becomes more content with her new life. She also becomes a great success with narrow-minded holiday makers who want the same food as in Britain. Finally their son tells Joe to go and get her instead of just phoning. Receiving a telegram about Joe's arrival, Costas makes excuses and leaves for the day, while Shirley is unperturbed. Joe walks from the airport. Shirley, wearing sunglasses and now feeling like a different person, is sipping wine by the sea in the sunset. Joe doesn't recognise her and walks past until she calls him back. The film ends with the two drinking wine by the sea, leaving open the question of how the matter resolved.

Main cast (in credits order)[edit]

Production[edit]

The film was shot on location in Liverpool, Twickenham, Oxford Circus, Bloomsbury, and St. Pancras Station in London, and on the island of Mykonos in Greece.

The film's theme song, "The Girl Who Used to Be Me," was written by Marvin Hamlisch, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman and performed by Patti Austin.

In various versions of the film, as modified for distribution, child viewing, and television, the line spoken by Costas has been changed to "of course I would like to make love with you. But love is love and boat is boat", to avoid the use of adult language.

Critical reception[edit]

The film was generally seen favorably, and went on to win a number of awards; criticisms generally focused on the transition from one-person play to screen in which Collin's acting provided the strength of the film and much of the rest was seen critically as weak.

Jow Brown of the Washington Post called the film "an uncommonly warm, relaxed little movie . . . without a cloying artificially-sweetened aftertaste." He continued, "The story's a bit of romantic whimsy, but it affords a great many comfortable and comforting laughs, and may even serve as a wake-up call for some."[2]

Variety called the film "uneven but generally delightful" and Pauline Collins "irresistible."[3]

Radio Times rated the film four out of five stars and added, "Lewis Gilbert manages to retain the best of Willy Russell's theatrical devices . . . while opening out the action to embrace a big-screen atmosphere. The supporting cast, particularly Bernard Hill as Collins's Neanderthal husband, is equally convincing, with only the hammy Conti (glistening teeth and appalling accent) striking a momentary false note."[4]

Among reviewers who found the film banal and hollow, Caryn James of The New York Times observed, "By adding all the characters and settings that Shirley only talks about on stage, the film reveals the weakness of Mr. Russell's script as surely as if a magician's clumsy assistant had pointed a finger at a secret trapdoor. Ms. Collins brings as much energy and warmth to the role as ever, but on screen the strength of her performance is shattered by being chopped into tiny, disconnected bits."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times likewise rated the film one star, calling it "a realistic drama of appalling banality." He added, "There were moments during the movie when I cringed at the manipulative dialogue as the heroine recited warmed-over philosophy and inane one-liners when she should have been allowed to speak for herself . . . Many of the sentiments in this film seem recycled directly from greeting cards . . . If there is a shred of plausibility in the film, it comes from Bernard Hill's performance as Shirley Valentine's husband. He isn't a bad bloke, just a tired and indifferent one, and when he follows his wife to Greece at the end of the film there are a few moments so truthful that they show up the artifice of the rest."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]