Pauline Liberates Dear Shirley Valentine
I never watched "Shirley Valentine" when it first came out in 1989; a movie adapted from a play featuring a middle aged woman discussing her re-awakening was definitely not my sort of thing at the age of 17. And in a way it's a good thing I didn't because I would have most likely hated it but now some 20 years later and having finally watched it I have to say that "Shirley Valentine" and in particular Pauline Collins as the titular character is pretty good.
Life has not turned out as expected for 42 year old Shirley Valentine-Bradshaw (Pauline Collins) and although married to husband Joe (Bernard Hill - Wimbledon) it is a dull and boring life. That is until her friend wins a holiday for two in Greece and takes Shirley along with her causing Shirley to break free from the shackles of her dull ordinary life when she meets the friendly and flirtatious Costas (Tom Conti).
It has to be said that for the first 45 minutes "Shirley Valentines" whilst often amusing is a bit heavy going as it builds up the character of 42 year old Shirley and her rather mundane life. It shows its heritage from Willy Russell's stage play with a lot of dialogue and Shirley talking directly to the camera with a long monologue as we revisit her childhood and events which lead up to her holiday in Greece. It intentionally feels dull only pepped up by the impeccable delivery of Pauline Collins and a couple of amusing scenes but it makes it hard going especially if you're hoping for a more traditional style movie. The monologue/talking to the camera feels heavy handed and although to start with is quite quirky by the time Shirley has gone through her rather dull life for 45 minutes it does start to become boring.
But the good news is that once the storyline moves to Greece and we basically watch Shirley turn from a rather dull housewife into this vibrant woman it really grabs you. It still has that monologue aspect but with the introduction of other characters most notably Costas played by Tom Conti the whole thing turns into a more normal movie. The important thing is that this change in storyline is good fun and Shirley's transformation from dowdy housewife to a revitalised woman is invigorating. It has both an honesty about it as she deals with her fears but also a fantasy side as she embraces her new found freedom.
Of course there is still that side to the story about a middle aged woman experiencing a re-awakening which makes it sound like something which will appeal to a specific audience. But "Shirley Valentine" is so well written and so well performed by Pauline Collins that you end up ignoring this and becoming engrossed in the way her life changes even though there is an almost predictable ness about things such as the romance between Shirley and Costas. Talking of which Pauline Collins should be applauded for those intimate scenes as well as those which require nudity because in those few moments she shows that you don't need to be young to be sexy.
Much of what makes "Shirley Valentine" work is the witty writing, full of comical barbs as Shirley describes not only her mundane life but the feeling of being alive again. And it is the brilliant delivery of Pauline Collins which brings it to life in a way that just makes you both laugh and also feel for her. But Pauline Collins is not alone and Tom Conti although almost delivering a caricature as Greek waiter Costas provides a really nice touch to the movie. The pairing works amazingly well and those intimate scenes on the boat are purely magic full of that holiday style romance.
On top of Pauline Collins and Tom Conti "Shirley Valentine" is swelled by some remarkable supporting performances, with Bernard Hill delivering a solid performance as Shirley's stuck in his ways husband Joe, Joanna Lumley as the upper classed Marjorie Majors and Sylvia Syms as an indomitable headmistress. But the best of these supporting performances comes from Julia McKenzie as Shirley's snobbish neighbour Gillian delivering a sense of the Hyacinth Bucket to her character long before Patricia Routledge delivered her famous character.
And of course with half of "Shirley Valentine" being filmed in Mykonos, Greece we have the wonderful scenery which to be honest makes you just want to pack your bags and head out there. But you have to give credit to director Lewis Gilbert as whilst he captures the beauty of Mykonos he never lets it dominate the story.
What this all boils down to is that "Shirley Valentine" is a joy to watch. It is a little hard going for the first 45 minutes as it sets up the dreary life of Shirley but when it moves to Greece it picks up and becomes pure good fun. It has a mix of realism and holiday fantasy about it which combined with Willy Russell's comical and clever writing and brilliant performance from Pauline Collins makes it seriously good fun.