In 1989 a director named Lewis Gilbert decided to adapt the one-woman play Shirley Valentine. The absolute best decision made in this adaptation process was to cast Pauline Collins, the original stage actress for Shirley, as the eponymous character in the film. Perhaps this gave Collins an unfair monopoly on the role, any audience seeing a revival of the play would probably expect to see something similar to the familiar performance from the film. However, giving the role to an accomplished actress who already knew it inside out allows Shirley Valentine to stand on its own two feet.
Collins gives a virtuoso performance as the middle-aged housewife mourning her lost vitality. Parts of the film are truly gut wrenching as we experience her profound sadness and regret in the way her life has turned out. This isn’t to discount any of the side characters, they all give brilliant performances, but they are stereotypes, they only exist as Shirley’s impression of them, not as fully rounded characters. The humour of these characters is that every so often they break out from the boring role Shirley has pigeon-holed them into and be genuinely human. It’s rather sad to think that for every Shirley who gets out of their rut there are another four or five women who continue as unfulfilled, unhappy and lost British middle-aged women.
It’s a shame that most of what makes this film so great are the elements that are distinct to cinema. The script is beautiful but existed before the film, the lead performance likewise. What lets the film down is the cinematography. Perhaps it’s a relic of its time, it’s certainly very stylised. At odd moments the camera will zoom in for emphasis as if it were a cartoon rather than a film. The main lure of the film is that it preserves a fantastic play and performance that may well have fallen into obscurity were it not for Gilbert.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 3/5
- Intellectual: 4/5