Shirley Valentine

Movie review by
Helen Dugdale, Common Sense Media
Shirley Valentine Movie Poster Image
Classic British comedy challenges gender stereotypes; sex.
  • R
  • 1989
  • 108 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Friendship is a key theme, as is supporting and encouraging each other. Breaking social and gender boundaries and expectations. Chasing your dreams. Realizing that assumptions are often misguided and far from the truth. Some infidelity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

It is a female-led story with strong female role models. Shirley is self-reflective and light-hearted but is determined to strive and achieve her dreams. She pushes against expectations of how a woman should live her life -- breaking gender stereotypes. Jane is referred to as a feminist and encourages Shirley -- but she then abandons Shirley for a man.


A character angrily pushes a plate of food away, which spills onto another character's clothes.


Some nudity and non-graphic sex. Two characters strip and swim naked in the sea -- although largely shot from afar, there is a close-up of some breasts. Insinuated sex on a boat. Two characters take a bath together. One character is a sex worker. Some discussion about sex, including one scene where the conversation turns to clitorises.


Language includes frequent use of "f--k," as well as "s--t," "t--ts," "bloody," "piss," "bugger," "bitch," "shite," "hell," and "crap." "God" and "Jesus" is also used as exclamations. A sex worker refers to herself as a "hooker" and a "whore."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters regularly drink alcohol in social settings, such as a pub, bar, and beach -- though never to excess. A character explains her love for alcohol when sipping some wine while cooking. A teen smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shirley Valentine is a British feel-good comedy, based on a play by Willy Russell, that contains some nudity and non-explicit sex scenes. A central premise to the movie is Shirley's (Pauline Collins) desire to break from traditional expectations -- and stereotypes -- placed on middle-aged, working class women, and living the life she always wished for. Spoiler alert: Shirley embarks on an adulterous affair with a local Greek man called Costas (Tom Conti). Both Shirley and Costas swim naked in the sea -- there is a close-up of Shirley's breasts. Sex between the two is insinuated on a boat. Two characters share a bath together. There are many uses of "f--k," along with "s--t," "bitch," "t--ts," and more. Sex is also frequently discussed, and a sex worker -- played by Joanna Lumley -- refers to herself as a "whore" and a "hooker." There is some drinking throughout the movie, although always in moderation. In one scene, a school girl is seen smoking. The movie has a strong message at its core about staying true to yourself and that it is possible to rediscover your self-confidence and achieve your goals at any age.

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What's the story?

In SHIRLEY VALENTINE, with her children all grown up and her husband working, Shirley (Pauline Collins) a bored, middle-aged housewife, feels a lack of excitement in her daily life. When her best friend, Jane (Alison Steadman) wins a holiday for two to Greece, Shirley agrees to go with her. There she rediscovers herself, regaining her confidence, and a desire to live her dream life.

Is it any good?

This classic BAFTA-nominated British movie is an empathetic nod to generations of women -- and men -- who have woken up one morning to find their life isn't what they thought it would be. Done with a humorous tone, it encourages the audience to follow their dreams and never-give-up. There's also strong messages about the changing female dynamics of the 1980s, when societal expectations were for women to just be content with a house, husband, and a family. Shirley's character breaks these stereotypes as she ignores the opinions of her husband and children and follows her unaccomplished childhood dreams.  

Taking up the same role she played in Willy Russell's play version, Collins is excellent as the titular Shirley Valentine. Breaking the fourth wall -- turning to the camera and addressing the audience directly -- is always a risk on the big screen. But Collins is so familiar with the material, she does it seamlessly. This remains a funny, yet emotive, look at entering middle age and getting to know oneself again.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss gender stereotypes in Shirley Valentine. How have societal expectations of women changed over the last 40 years? Do you think there are still issues we need to address? If so, what are they?

  • Discuss the character of Shirley. What character strengths does she display? Why are these such important attributes to have?

  • Do you think Shirley made the right decision going to Greece and refusing to return to Liverpool? Why is it important to chase your dreams?

  • Do you think there's potential for a sequel to this movie? If so, what do you think would happen?

Movie details

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