Directed by Nigel Cole, starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Geraldine James, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Annette Crosbie, John Alderton, Philip Glenister, Linda Bassett, Ciaran Hinds, John-Paul Macleod.

When 11 Yorkshire housewives posed nude for a charity calendar in 1999 they could hardly have known the media furore that their actions would cause - and that the whole story would be turned into a film just four years later. A female 'Full Monty', 'Calendar Girls' is full of familiar British 50-plus actresses behaving badly, and plenty of down-to-earth humour to cover up the underlying heartbreak.

At the heart of the tale are two friends - Chris and Annie - winningly played by Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Subversive members of the Napley Women's Institute, they giggle at the back of the hall through lectures on the Milk Marketing Board, broccoli and rugs with rebel Chris even - horrors! - winning the annual WI baking competition with an M&S-bought cake.

When tragedy strikes and Annie's husband John (Alderton) dies from leukaemia, Chris comes up with the idea of the ladies posing for a nude calendar to raise money for the local hospital in John's memory. Widowed and grieving her beloved John, but desperately in need of something to do, Annie throws herself into persuading the other WI members to bare all for a good cause.

Initially reluctant, the women gradually overcome their very British reserve and embarrassment at being photographed naked - rude bits discretely hidden behind some of the more traditional WI pastimes like flower arranging and apple pressing. Having found the courage to expose their ageing bodies, the women find themselves laid bare in front of the press when their calendar comes out and the world media spotlight is focused on their little Yorkshire town, taking the ladies all the way to Hollywood - and, in some cases, away from the very reason behind the calendar.

The cast are superb. Matter-of-fact, funny and brave, the women of Napley WI are an enjoyable bunch to spend an evening with. Helen Mirren visibly relishes her role as the glamorous Chris, instigator of the scheme - and first to get her clothes off. Julie Walters eschews sentimentality in the character of Annie, full of common sense and humour but utterly bereft by her loss. Playing her genial and much-missed husband, John Alderton makes his mark on the whole film despite only being present for long enough to establish a reason for the calendar.

Moving along with wit and pace for the first two-thirds, 'Calendar Girls' runs out of steam after the publication of the calendar. When writer Tim Firth brings the ladies to LA, the film turns into a series of rather patronising wish-fulfilment-for-older-women scenarios, the believability factor further eroded by a cameo from thrash metal legends Anthrax. The fact that there are darker undercurrents underneath all the jollity is only touched on in an argument between Chris and Annie, the pressures of the spotlight almost rupturing their long-term relationship and Annie's grief getting forgotten by everyone else amongst the media hoop-la.

Full of heart and large of soul, 'Calendar Girls' is fun, frolics and elderly pin-ups in the Yorkshire Dales.

Caroline Hennessy