Shirley Valentine (revisited)

It doesn’t happen too often but, now and again, a film comes along that may well stay with you for much of your life. As a child of the 70s, it’s not surprising that Close Encounters, Jaws, Indiana Jones and the original Star Wars trilogy left their mark on me, but there is one film in particular from the end of the 80s that I can never tire of. In fact, it’s not possible for me to see it too often. I first saw it in the cinema in 1989 and last week I was able to see it again, thanks to the peerless Phoenix Picturehouse of Jericho, Oxford. Shirley Valentine.

Shirley Valentine, played to perfection by Pauline Collins, was once a free spirit, a rebel at school with her short skirts and smokes, who stabbed to death the soufflé of school pet Marjorie Majors. But all that changed, so gradually that the change was never noticed at the time, during the course of her marriage to Joe (Bernard Hill). Shirley became Shirley Bradshaw and before she knew it her only friends were the kitchen wall and her neighbour’s dog (and he was bribed with steak). Her two children had flown the nest and her entire existence rolled around a week’s menu of cooking things with chips for an unappreciative hubby. And all of this in Liverpool where it rains a lot. When friend Jane (Alison Steadman) has a spare ticket for a holiday on a Greek island it goes to Shirley. But how can she leave her inept and useless and controlling husband? This is resolved, thanks to her mother’s fortnight supply of readymade meals and a chance encounter with Marjorie (Joanna Lumley).

From that moment onwards, Shirley realises with the force of a brick striking her from the sky that life is passing her by and that she must rediscover Shirley Valentine before she is lost forever.

In Greece, in the company of Costos (Tom Conti), who has quite a pick up line, Shirley Valentine falls in love with herself. There’s no going back.

I’ve seen Shirley Valentine regularly over the years but there’s nothing compared to seeing a well-loved movie on a big screen before you. All right, it’s not as digitally perfect and the sound isn’t particularly surrounding, but when all’s said and done it’s the quality of the story, the script, the acting and the spirit of a film that counts, more than the number of pixels on the screen. The film was directed by Lewis Gilbert and written by the master Willy Russell.

When I see Shirley Valentine, especially now when she and I share an age, I experience flights of fancy. When I first watched the film all those years ago, it was a contributing factor to a series of trips that I took to far flung places. Now I’m older, I realise, like Shirley, that the dream isn’t what you expect and that it can, in fact, make you feel pretty daft. But it’s worth the effort and part of being and feeling alive.

This is what these movies should do, the ones that accompany you through life. As you change, your experience of the film may also alter. It may say something different to you. But it will always be a pleasure.

If you’ve never seen Shirley Valentine, and if you have, please watch this video below.

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