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 a 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, and Pauline Collins plays Shirley, just as she did when the play had its first runs in London's West End and on Broadway in 1988 and 1989.


Shirley Valentine is a 42[1] year old Liverpudlian housewife whose family pays her so little attention she frequently talks to her kitchen walls in order to keep a conversation going. When her flamboyant friend Jane (Alison Steadman) wins a trip for two to Greece, Shirley uncharacteristically puts herself first and accepts her invitation to join her.

Prior to Shirley's departure, she is prey to self-doubt. Only the encouragement from other women, specifically Marjorie Majors (played by Joanna Lumley) and Shirley's neighbour Gillian (played by Julia McKenzie) manage to bolster her self-confidence. Both Marjorie and Gillian reveal that they have a very different image of Shirley than Shirley does of herself. Marjorie (who was always the teachers' favourite at school) admired Shirley's rebelliousness and "bad-girl" image, feeling trapped in her own conformity and her parents' aspirations. Marjorie herself has now become a top-class hooker, not the air-hostess Shirley imagines she was destined to become.

Upon Shirley and Jane's arrival in an unnamed Greek island (filmed on Mykonos), Jane promptly abandons her companion for a romance with a man she met on the plane before it even took off.

When the plane lands, Shirley sets off on her own, with Jane promising to return that night. Jane doesn't surface for several days, but Shirley pretends to be fine on her own, exploring the island. Eventually she is "rescued" by her fellow Brits Jeanette and Dougie (Anna Keaveney and George Costigan) at lunch one day. During lunch, another British couple begins to disparage Greece as being too Greek. Shirley can't stand more than a few insults before she blasts them all, letting them know that the Greeks are responsible for many modern accomplishments that they take for granted.

After dinner (at which she divulged what calamari is, to the horror of her dining companions), she goes off alone and happens upon a taverna. She then asks the owner to help her fulfil a dream she's had: drinking wine by the sea in the country in which the grapes were grown. The owner, Costas Dimitriades (Tom Conti), willingly helps her by moving a small table and chair next to the sea.

After realizing that the grass is indeed greener, Shirley is worse off than before. Costas comes by and offers to walk her back to her room. Once there, he invites her out to his brother's boat the next day. When she baulks, he 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."). Convinced that he only wants to cheer her up, she agrees.

The next morning, as Shirley is preparing to meet Costas, Jane returns to the room, begging for forgiveness and not giving Shirley a word in edgewise. As Jane goes to change for their day together, Costas shows up and Shirley leaves with him, with Jane trailing behind in disbelief. Shirley then pawns Jane off on the uptight Brits as payback for leaving her alone. Shirley and Costas go out on the boat. Shirley goes skinny-dipping, revealing to the camera that she doesn't want Costas to keep his promise from the day before. After she kisses him, he doesn't.

Once Jane hears about what has happened, she believes that Shirley has fallen in love with Costas. However, Shirley reveals to the camera that she's fallen in love with the idea of living. Shirley spends more time with Costas, yet she is despondent about having to leave soon. Once the time comes, Shirley gets as far as the airport before turning back.

Once back at the taverna, she finds Costas handing the same line to another tourist as he did with her. However, Shirley isn't upset because she didn't return for him; she wants a job. Once Jane arrives at the airport back in Britain, she drops Shirley's suitcase without a word to Shirley's husband Joe, who is carrying an armful of flowers. He is shocked and embarrassed at being left and calls Shirley any time he can, from a variety of places.

Joe becomes more and more desperate the longer Shirley is away, as she becomes more content with her new life. She also becomes a great success with narrow-minded Brits, cooking them chips and egg when they decide they don't like foreign food. Finally their son tells Joe to go and get her instead of insisting she come back. Hurt by his son's words, Joe sets off for Greece.

Shirley, having received a telegram about Joe's impending arrival, prepares for it. Costas is afraid of a confrontation with Joe, and begs off with a fake excuse. Once Joe arrives at the taverna, he walks by Shirley, not recognising her. She calls him by name and when he turns around, sees, as Shirley puts it, "not the wife or the mother, but Shirley Valentine". After gathering himself, she pours him a glass of wine and invites him to sit with her at the table and chairs by the sea.

Main cast (in credits order)[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.

Critical reception[edit]

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."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times 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."[3]

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."[4]

Variety called the film "uneven but generally delightful" and Pauline Collins "irresistible."[5]

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."[6]

Real life similarities[edit]

In 1997, Janette Pink, a British Citizen formerly residing in Cyprus,[7] filed charges against her former Greek-Cypriot lover, Pavlos Georgiou.[8] She claimed that he had knowingly infected her with HIV/AIDS, and that he had refrained from ever informing her of his condition. Georgiou was eventually found guilty in a Larnaca District court. And was sentenced too 15 months in prison, of which he served less than six, due to a pardon issued by the president Glafcos Clerides.[9]

Awards and nominations[edit]


External links[edit]