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 reprises 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.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lewis Gilbert|
|Produced by||Lewis Gilbert|
|Screenplay by||Willy Russell|
|Based on||Shirley Valentine (play)|
by Willy Russell
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Edited by||Lesley Walker|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Shirley Valentine is a 42-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 Jane's 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 Shirley 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 dream of drinking wine by the seashore in the country where 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.
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 realises 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.
In various versions of the film, as modified for distribution, child viewing, and television, the line spoken by Costas has been changed to avoid the use of adult language.
The film was generally seen favourably, and went on to win a number of awards; criticisms generally focused on the transition from one-person play to screen in which Collins's acting provided the strength of the film and much of the rest was seen 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."
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."
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."
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."
Films directed by Lewis Gilbert