Since its London and Broadway stage debut, playwright Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine has proven an excellent showcase for any number of talented actresses (Loretta Swit won the 1989 Sarah Siddons Award for her work in the Chicago production). In the film version of Shirley Valentine, Pauline Collins re-creates the role that had previously brought her theatrical fame and a Tony Award. Spending the bulk of the film speaking directly to the audience, the titular Shirley (Collins), a middle-aged Liverpool housewife, reveals her innermost thoughts and fears in a manner that is both insouciant and poignant. Once an incorrigible anti-establishment rebel, Shirley now chafes under the plodding insensitivity of her husband, Joe (Bernard Hill). Her life enters a new and exciting phase when, after her best friend, Jane (Alison Steadman), wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece, Shirley is given the opportunity to travel to faraway places without her husband. Shirley Valentine represents the second felicitous collaboration between playwright Willy Russell and director Lewis Gilbert; the first was Educating Rita (1983).
by Hal Erickson synopsis