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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Stars bare all on Calendar Girls

By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Helen Mirren and Julie Walters
Mirren and Walters: A strong ensemble movie for older women

Helen Mirren is no stranger to stripping for the camera.

But even she welcomed the support of her co-stars to recreate the story of the now famous Women's Institute's "alternative calendar", she told a press conference on Tuesday as the film premiered in the UK.

Calendar Girls tells the true story of 11 WI women who were prepared to take off their clothes for charity, and in the name of one of their husband's, John Baker, who died of leukaemia.

But they thought it would be a small affair that would not reach outside of Yorkshire, let alone take them to Hollywood.

Helen Mirren and Julie Walters star in the film of the true story as the two women who took a crazy idea and turned it into reality, shedding their clothes along the way.

While it is fairly common for young female actresses to take off their clothes for "artistic reasons", it is quite another for a cast of 50-something women to do it.

While Mirren and Walters have both done nude scenes, some of their co-stars were not quite so accustomed to being so exposed.

Helen Mirren
Six of the film's stars, including Mirren, took part in the WI's 2004 calendar
Mirren told the press conference: "Some of the women had done it before and some of them absolutely had not.

"Everyone was so charmed and taken by the script, it is a different way of taking off your clothes. There was a huge amount of mutual support.

"We all supported each other. It was all a good fun film for us to make."

But Walters said none of them had to fake the apprehension of their characters when the time came to shoot their calendar pictures.

"The nerves were all natural. I still don't like to look at it. Everyone hated their own photos," she said.

But fellow actress Celia Imrie was quick to add they all "loved each others' photos".

Although the film is based on the story of the Rylstone WI, quite a lot of poetic licence has been used.

The actresses all had the opportunity to meet up with the women from the WI and hear their real life experiences of instant fame.

Scene from Calendar Girls
The film has already proved a success at Cannes and Locarno
But Mirren was overwhelmed at how those involved were prepared to give over their life stories without interfering and saying "well that never happened in real life".

"The wonderful women who participated in the calendar were so generous with their stories, they gave their stories and let us take it where we took it," said Mirren.

Mirren's character is based on Tricia Stewart (Miss October), who came up with the calendar idea.

Ms Stewart is keen to point out that much of the film has been exagerated for effect, including the tension between her and close friend Angela Baker, who is played by Walters.

"It's been fictionalised and dramatised, the spirit of it and our humour is there and there is much more of us in it than I expected, but it is not a documentary."

But although some of the story is fiction - half of the original WI women did not want to sell the rights to their story - the reason for the making the calendar in the first place remains true, raising money in the name of John Baker.

Ms Baker, who is played by Walters, found watching the film a touching experience. Her late husband is played in the film by John Alderton.

"I laughed a lot and I also cried, it was very emotional," she said. "I knew it would be great, John would be very proud."


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