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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Brits brace for next blockbuster

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Calendar Girls, with Helen Mirren (second left) and Julie Walters (centre)
Calendar Girls is expected to be a runaway US success
UK movie comedy Calendar Girls, about a group of Women's Institute members who strip for a charity calendar, premières in the UK on Tuesday night.

The film is widely expected to become the next British film to be a hit in the US.

Calendar Girls is about a real-life group of women from the Rylstone, Yorkshire, branch of the WI spurred into action by the death of one of their husbands - baring all on a calendar for the local cancer ward.

Featuring a cast of UK actors that includes Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie, the film has already caused a splash at Cannes and at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland earlier this month.

Its producers, Harbour Pictures, hope the film will echo the success of previous British comedies that proved hits in the US - films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, The Full Monty and Bend it Like Beckham.

All of these films have proven to be box office successes in the US - The Full Monty to the tune of some $45m (£28.8m) and Four Weddings and a Funeral a massive $52m (£33.3m).

Bend it Like Beckham has proven to be an underground hit, and has made a star of 18-year-old Keira Knightley who can currently be seen in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Four Weddings was the British comedy hit of the 1990s

Several UK film figures think Calendar Girls will be a certain hit in the US and that American audiences have not tired of the feel-good formula behind a number of British hits.

"The US is very keen on British comedy because we have a quirky way of telling a story," says Ian Thomson, of the UK's Film Council.

Issues of class

"British comedy goes back a long way through theatre and writing, and we still have a distinctive voice, because it is the English language but not American humour."

Mr Thomson believes a lot of British comedies still touch on issue of class, and American audiences respond to that because they still believe Britain's society adheres to the old class rules.

Locations have also had to be more "intensely England" than in real life.

"When you are making a film it's difficult to tell a story without the location becoming a heightened element," he said.

Critics say that some of the bigger British hits - like the Four Weddings... and Notting Hill films written and directed by Richard Curtis - were set in a less than realistic modern-day England populated by bumbling, middle-class characters.

Calendar Girls
Calendar Girls: "Salt of the earth" quality

Calendar Girls, some film journalists told BBC News Online, has some of the same qualities that promise success, but is grittier than the likes of Notting Hill.

"It isn't an idealised film, even if it has done some slight tinkering of what actually happened, and it's much less idealised than the Richard Curtis stuff," said Nick Hunt, reviews editor of Screen International.

"It's in the north of England, in a Yorkshire village that is a lot less whitewashed than the Notting Hill of Notting Hill - where there wasn't even a black face," he said.

'Ordinary people'

Ian Freer, associate editor of film magazine Empire, says it is the "salt-of-the-earth quality" of the characters he thinks audiences will respond to.

"The thing about Calendar Girls is the beautiful Yorkshire scenery and the village life, which comes across as really warm," he said.

Mr Freer likened it to the qualities of Bend it Like Beckham. "It's about ordinary people, and it's a great feel good film."

Mr Thomson said that film was cheap to make but showed off the good scripts, acting and story that British films should rely on.

28 Days Later
28 Days Later showed a bleaker Brit film could also have Stateside success

Another element that may work in Calendar Girl's favour is the fact some of it is set in the US, with the WI women travelling to Hollywood after worldwide interest in their charity calendar (this did take place - the real women went on an 11-city publicity tour).

But the wholesome comedy that characterised the British films which charmed US audiences is no longer the only formula to American success.

This year, Danny Boyle's unsettling post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later has so far taken more than $43m in the US - and is still on general release.

Hugh Grant bumbling his way from pratfall to embarrassment is no longer the only way for British film to make its mark.


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