Picks and Pans Review: Shirley Valentine

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Pauline Collins, Tom Conti

The transposition from play to movie has improved this story. Onstage in London and on Broadway, it was a tedious, cloying one-character tale of a self-pitying Englishwoman trying to decide if she should run off and leave her husband and two grown children. On film it is a tedious, cloying, multicharacter tale of a self-pitying Englishwoman who does run off and leave her husband and two grown children—but at least she runs off to some nice scenery, on and around the Greek island of Mykonos.

Director Lewis (Educating Rita) Gilbert and Willy Russell, adapting his own 1986 play, succeeded in keeping in all the affectations. The movie version, for instance, has Collins (who played the stage role) standing in her kitchen, talking to a wall—as in "Isn't that right, Wall?" Then she starts talking to a boulder in Greece and addresses it as "Rock." When she meets Conti, as a womanizing café owner, she doesn't address him as "Man Born in Scotland Trying to Look and Sound Like a Greek," though well she might.

In detailing the frustrations of her life, she glibly reels off such ostensibly witty aphorisms as "Sex is like supermarkets: overrated—a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little in the end." She does an extended joke based on the mispronunciation of "clitoris." And in a revelatory moment, she exclaims, "I've fallen in love with the idea of living!"

Onstage her unbearable hubby had to be assumed to be unbearable. When you see him here, though, in the person of Bernard (Gandhi) Hill, he doesn't seem any less sensitive or compassionate than Collins does. A lot of other things would have been better off staying in Russell's imagination too, such as a ludicrous flashback where Collins recalls herself and Hill, as blissful newlyweds, painting their kitchen and playfully throwing paint at each other.

Collins, probably best known to Americans as Sarah in Upstairs, Downstairs, has substantial charm. But you use up a lot of charm when you have to keep talking right into the camera in a cutesy-poo way about how misused you are. After a few minutes your biggest fear is that Hill will do something really stupid, like try to stop her from leaving. (R)

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