Shirley Valentine, the 1989 film adaptation of the play by Willy Russell shows the story of a middle-aged Liverpool housewife, who finally breaks out of her shell and decides she prefers living in Greece to being stock in monotony of her house in England. After her children have left home, her only purpose in life is preparing dinner ready in time for her grumbling husband. Shirley (Pauline Collins) feels so lonely, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled that she addresses kitchen walls as she confesses her troubles.
Her husband Joe (Bernard Hill) has long ceased to love her and is extremely irritated when she fails to serve Thursday’s stake (gives eggs ‘n’ chips instead). She “got lost in this unused life”, but she overcomes a phenomenal rebirth while on a two weeks holiday in Greece. Shirley, the timid housewife and mother emerges as the woman of her youth – daring, exciting, and cherishing the life itself. Shirley is the protagonist, the central character of the film; she constantly draws attention of viewers as well as of all other characters.
There is so much known about her that it is easy to believe she is authentic and true to life. Shirley, as a round character, is characterized by individuality and unpredictability. She resolutely protests when a group of tourists complains and jokes about Greeks. She makes a brilliant ironic remark when her husband demands his six o’clock tea: “Well, just think how exciting it’d be, if for once, you had it at a quarter past six? It’d make the headlines. “World Exclusive”. “Joe Eats Late”. It is also problematic to predict what her decision is going to be like.
For instance, her trip to Greece is not a quick “yes” or “no”; she hesitates to go, but on the other hand she would love to make her dream about traveling come true. We do not know if we will see her sun bathing on the Greek beach until she gets on the plane and leaves all objections behind her. On the contrary, some characters are flat, very simple and one-dimensional. Conti, Shirley’s lover, is a comic clichi, acting out every dumb macho Greek stereotype and appears far less authentic than she is. He is poetic, gentle, tender and passionate, and he has a big black moustache, and of course he is not faithful.
Other peripheral characters, like Gillian (a neighbor) with the vegetarian dog and Jane (a friend) convinced that “all men are potential rapists, even the pope”, help to put Shirley’s story together and make it smooth and alive. Action of the movie is arranged around Shirley. Components of action, sequence of incidents are controlled and connected by conflict, which refers to circumstances the main character tries to overcome – antagonist. Here, the role of antagonist plays loneliness, dissatisfaction, and feeling of lost life.
Although all negative, they trigger series of positive events that lead the protagonist to the happy end, sort of personal liberation, a rebirth. The first minutes of the film introduce the background, characters, and conflict. Here we find Shirley talking to the walls of her kitchen, her boring husband, and some few friends. Complications occur, when she tries to learn answers to the questions: “Why my life is so grey and flat and what can I do to make it better? ” She embarks on a trip to Greece and here is the beginning of a remarkable change in her life.
This second stage of the film is called the rising action. The climax comes when Shirley faces the decision of going back home or not. She needs to recognize what needs to be done to resolve the inner conflict, to balance her needs and reality. She finally decides to stay in Greece and live a life of her dreams, and it is the time of the falling action. Some scenes of Shirley’s story take place while we watch them, and some of them take place while she watches them along with us. Some consist of Shirley talking directly to us, or the wall or the sky or the rock.
It is like we see people and places through her eyes, and hear the Sea wind through her ears. The narration performed by Shirley brings us closer to the watched scenes. Moments when she faces the camera and talks directly to us give impression that we are involved in the action of the film, so our anonymity vanishes as we are called out to be Shirley’s trustful confidants. As we listen to her, we encounter verbal irony. Again, her comment on husband acting like a child when he wants his six o’clock tea now is ironic and so very funny. Here is another citation: “That’s right, Milandra, I’m off to Greece for the sex.
Sex for breakfast, sex for lunch, sex for tea and sex for supper. ” In other words, “sex is the last thing I would want to focus on while in Greece”. Situational irony is also a useful tool and is present in the movie. Let’s have a look at Shirley sitting at the dinning table with Joe (husband) and staring at him in disbelief after he shouted out his discontent and thrown eggs ‘n’ chips on her. She was a good wife struggling to fulfill Joe’s demands every single day; however, he decided to punish her, for she was not good enough to him.
Shirley Valentine has a message for everyone, not just women. She longs to finally have her “unfulfilled dreams” come true. She proclaims: “The girl who used to be me, she could fly (… ) and I think she’s been gone too long”. That “tool long” is her awaking. She realizes that yes! she can fly again and it is only up to her whether she will. She overcomes her fear of the land beyond the kitchen, takes a deep breath, and enjoys the miracle of life. So many people get lost in their lives and the same group of people can wake up and enjoy the life again, just like Shirley.