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NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by mklively who says... "Overall it was a cute movie, reminiscent of The Full Monty, though this movie is based upon the true story of a British women's organization and their fundraising efforts"
The films opens with a montage of meetings of the Knapely chapter of the Women's Institute, an organization devoted to improving the quality of women's education and life. Each meeting features a rather boring speaker offering a lecture on the history of broccoli or a vacation slideshow. Two members and best friends, Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters), take in each meeting joking amongst themselves.
Annie is married to John, an expert on flowers whom Chris suggests as a speaker for a future meeting. Chris's husband is a florist, and she has a teenage son. Early in the film Chris is cleaning her son's room and finds a girlie magazine (important).
One day Annie arrives home to find John has packed a bag. She thinks John is leaving her, but it turns out that he is sick with Leukemia. Annie is beside herself as Chris comforts her, and the two hope he will pull through.
Chris is somewhat bored with the WI, having joined at the insistence of her now dead mother. Her indifference to the WI is evident during a local fair when she enters a store-bought sponge cake in a contest under the WI's banner. The cake takes first prize and Chris accepts, practically admitting that she cheated. Everyone, however, thinks she is joking.
At the next WI meeting the cake trophy is visibly presented on the president's table, and a discussion begins about the group's annual fundraising calendar. Chris jokingly suggests 12 months of George Clooney, but the president decides to do shots of local scenery.
John, meanwhile, is not getting better and has to stay longer in the hospital. He is upbeat and jokes with Chris, and introduces him to a hospital volunteer, who is also a photographer. When Chris finds Annie in the relatives' waiting room, she comments on how uncomfortable the sofa is. Annie is distraught because John is not going to get better.
Later, John is out of the hospital and parked with Annie outside of town. He reads the speech he planned for the WI meeting, which parallels women to flowers. Most significant is his comment that like flowers, women are most glorious in the final stage of growth. John never gets to make this speech; he dies. Chris give Annie a sunflower at the funeral. At the next WI meeting, Chris reads John's speech, which also mentions how the sunflower follows the sun as it grows.
While at the mechanics to get her son's bike fixed (he delivers newspapers), Chris notices a racy calendar in the garage. She asks to borrow it. Remembering her son's magazine, she poses the suggestion to some members of the WI to do a calendar of their members, nude. The money will go toward buying a new sofa for the hospital. The woman balk, but Chris says that they will not be exposed, but hidden behind strategically placed objects. To prove her point, she goes into her kitchen and take off her shirt, hiding behind a flower arrangement, and asks one of the ladies to take a picture. Her son and his friend walk in at this moment, causing him embarassment.
Later, Chris goes to the drugstore to collect the photos, realizing the girls behind the counter have been looking at them and laughing. She is somewhat discourage while doing Tai-Chi with her friends, but everybody else is tickled by the idea. Chris and Annie decide that if they are going to get the woman to commit to a calendar, they will need a professional photographer. A montage of photographer interviews follows (all quite amusing), until Chris and Annie track down the hospital volunteer who helped John.
The photographer comes up with the idea to have the woman pose behind the activities the WI does: jam making, sewing, playing piano, baking, etc. The women are skittish at first, being undressed in front of a man, but it is decided that the photographer will set up the shot and leave the room while somebody else snaps the photo. With the photographer hired, the women commit except for one, a shy woman named Ruth whose husband travels frequently (Ruth is the subplot of the story).
Word gets around about the calendar, and the president of the WI chapter is not happy about it, fearful that it will cause scandal. Chris defends the idea, saying it is for John. Many woman rally behind Chris.
On the day of the shoot, the husbands congregate in the local pub and wonder if they will go through with it. Ruth is at home, watching her husband pack for a weeklong business trip and feeling sorry for herself. The ladies meet at Chris's house and draw cards to see who will be photographed first.
The first shoot starts awkwardly; the pastry setup is not large enough to conceal the woman entirely, and the photographer has to direct from a close door. Finally, they let him inside and the shoot goes without a hitch. The woman are more relaxed and more photos are taken. Toward the end of the shoot Ruth arrives and decides to pose, watering plants. The last photo is of all the ladies wearing nothing but Santa hats, concealed by sheet music.
With the photos taken, the woman need to find a sponsor for the calendar to pay for the expenses. Annie has trouble finding somebody, but Chris finds a brewery. Annie is put off by the thought of a beer company paying for the calendar, but says nothing. Chris and Annie then get busy sending out press releases for publicity. Just as the calendar is about to be printed, however, they learn the chapter president of WI has filed a complaint with the national board of WI, who won't let the ladies use the Women's Institute name on the calendar. Chris and Annie go to London to appeal their case in front of the entire Women's Institute conference. Chris delivers an impassioned speech about how she would gladly strip naked if it meant getting rid of cancer. The national president decides that it's up to the chapter president to approve the calendar. The chapter president reluctantly agrees.
Back in Knapely, Chris and Annie are distraught to find nobody has showed up to their press conference. They learn quickly, though, that too many people showed up and it had to be moved to another room. Chris and Annie arrive to a multitude of photographers and press. The calendar is an instant hit and starts selling out.
Soon all the women are national celebrities and being followed by cameras, press, the BBC. Chris's son, however, is embarassed by all the attention. He throws a stack of newspaper's with his mother's picture off a cliff. Annie and the other woman, though, are touched by letters they have received from older woman praising their efforts. Annie is determined to continue fighting against leukemia.
Chris's husband is a bit annoyed that Chris is neglecting their florist business. While packing an order, he talks with a customer, complaining about her fame (important). The customer snaps a photo as a joke.
After the next WI meeting, Chris tells the girls they have been invited to Hollywood to be on television. Ruth is excited and can't wait to show her husband the calendar, but when he gets home he is furious with her and leaves immediately. She tracks him down to apologize, and discovers he has been having an affair the whole time. Ruth confronts the other woman and her husband at a hotel restaurant and basically tells them both to stuff it.
Just before the trip, Chris's son is caught smoking pot, but it turns out to only have been oregano. Chris is peeved, but stills plans to go to LA. Annie and her husband tell her it's more important that she stay for her son, which she does reluctantly.
Annie, Ruth, and three others head for LA, first class all the way. Chris is at home and reads the morning paper to find an exclusive interview with her husband about how their marriage has cooled. The customer from earlier turned out to be a reporter. Chris takes off and meets the others in LA in time for their publicity junket.
The ladies appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Before the show, Chris arranges a photo shoot with a washing powder company who will pay for the US calendar reprint. Annie is getting annoyed with Chris's obnoxious behavior all the time, and when she learns the woman have to pose nude for the advertisement she and Chris get into a big fight. Annie accuses Chris of seeing the calendar as something more than what it was intended to be, accuses her of soaking up the fame and losing sight of the cause. Chris takes Annie down a few pegs as well, and the trip home is tense.
Back at home, the ladies return to a grand welcome from the other WI members and go into the meeting hall, all except Chris whose husband is waiting for her. They straighten out their disagreements and Chris realizes she let the calendar take too much of her and apologizes for her neglect of her family. Chris's husband urges her to make things right with Annie. Chris returns to the meeting in time to learn that the calendar has raised almost 300 thousand Pounds. Chris and Annie reconcile.
The last shot is of the Calendar Girls on top of the hill in Knapely, practicing Tai Chi. As they leave words appear on the screen announcing that sales of their calendar has thus far raised over half a million Pounds and funded an entire Leukemia wing for the local hospital...and a new sofa.
Spoiled by Kathryn Lively - author of SAINTS PRESERVE US (Wings ePress, 2003)
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