“Shirley Valentine” English Coursework Essay
Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine is a romantic comedy, set in Liverpool, about a woman called (Surprisingly) Shirley Bradshaw. She is married to a man called Joe. When Joe and Shirley were married, they loved each other passionately, but as the years went on her life became a routine of washing up plates, glasses and dishes and making meals for her husband. She has resorted to talking to the kitchen wall because she is bored and has no one to socialize with. Shirley though, can never remember the exact point in which her amorous marriage turned into a horrible nightmare. Her marriage becomes so routine that Joe eats particular meals on particular days and if he does not get them on the right allocated days he has a tantrum!
The play is influenced by kitchen sink drama, which was around during the late 1950 to 1960.It was a straight realism with a focus on working- class life, social problem relationships. Many kitchen sink dramas didn’t have a pessimistic atmosphere that pervades the play with characters trapped in realistic social situation.
The title sequence and opening scenes help to establish Shirley’s character, by demonstrating atmosphere background and expressions. Moreover, there is a lot we
can deduce from images. Firstly there are sketches in the opening of the film which instinctively grabs the audience’s attention towards the main motif of the film, from the continuous references referred by Shirley’s point of view, to the implication of Shirley’s incompleteness as a person. Similarly, The colour schemes used in the images are blues and purples which symbolises a connotation of sadness and depression, also the colour white indicates plain/ emptiness, these visual devices show a replication of the Shirley’s life as a whole.
Shirley has an unsociable life and that builds up to her being a woman with a lack of confidence and a woman who avoids any form of confrontation, in order to get by in life . To add to this, the song’s lyrics portrays the link between Shirley “the girl who used to be me, used to be free”. This emphasises that her life changed for the worse, and that she was content before, but now she has fallen in the trap of marriage. Overall Shirley is a person who is treated as a servant, not defending her respect, but continuously allows people to take control over her. A good aspect about Shirley which is not disguised by her original personality (Shirley Bradshaw) is during her life in Liverpool is her use of verbal humour which keeps the viewers interested, this is a good use of comedy.
Willy Russell uses flashbacks/ expositions to show the audience a glimpse of Shirley’s past life. This is helpful, in giving viewers a insight of Shirley ‘s characteristics and personality in different ages of Shirley’s life, leading to the viewers being more involved in Shirley transformation. Flashbacks/Exposition also take us back to when Shirley and her Husband Joe were newly wed. The audience is able to see a happy and intriguing relationship, which not only represents their comfort in their marriage, but also security and trust they share together. A later flashback/exposition displays Shirley in her early thirties in a bar surrounded by friends talking about something that she had mention to Joe, which was “clitoris” a small sexual sensitive organ at the front of the vulva, Joe replies via watching TV to Shirley “doesn’t go as well as the ford cortina” this indicates that Joe has no interest in her physically anymore, as for when something that would improve or benefit their sex life through stimulation like “clitoris” he diverts and dismisses the conversation. Shirley refers her marriage “like the middle east” this implicates her marriage has gone under war without anyway to resolve the solution, she also fells that her relationship has come to stage of no reasoning. Summarising, the use of flashback/expositions allows us to understand the characters better, it gives us a broad understanding of how she came to be who she is, and to compare her happier past to her miserable.
Dramatic monologue is used in the film so the audience can feel more involved or have more sympathy for the protagonist; this therefore allows interest and excitement to continue throughout the film, I personally believe it has developed very successfully. The fact that Shirley talks to herself emphasis not only loneliness, but also the inner person who wants to be free. The life of routine is controlled by her husband Joe, which drags Shirley to being dependant. Shirley relationship with Joe is pointless with son Brian and Millandra left home, a total lack of communication with her husband has lead to Shirley talking to wall, as she remarks “Hello wall” this indicates her sadness and a further feeling of her isolation.
Shirley’s encounters with minor characters after leaving her jail of an environment to go to Greece, brings forth the first big change in Shirley’s withdrawn and insecure nature, and revealed an articulate and righteous person. Signs of development towards Shirley’s new transformation were being established by the first example made by minor characters (holiday travellers); Dougie, Jeanette, Sydney and Thelma’s bald nature causes them to reject any form of change, this includes travelling whilst trying Greek cultural traditional food. Sitting at a Cafï¿½ the holiday travellers fist notice Shirley’s all by herself, and they insist on bringing her to their table. Listening to the holiday travellers conversation she suddenly over hears a foolish remark made against the geeks by Dougie and instantly supports the geeks citizens by quoting “actually, the geek! And it was the geeks, I’ll have you know- who were responsible for the most important invention of all-time wheel!” this shows a glimpse of Shirley Valentine, hence the transformation begins!
Setting used by Willy Russell highlight’s the difference between Shirley in Greece and Shirley in Liverpool by setting a dark and gloomy atmosphere in her house this shows her imprisonment. The change of atmosphere came when brave, marvellous Shirley decides to go Greece for a change; the decision is the climax of her switched life. Exotic setting opens a road of independent individual. Liverpool’s setting “pouring with rain” highlights the depressing, unexciting life of Shirley, unexciting life of Shirley, comparing to a life of exotic beaches, stunning views and happy life at Greece, the possible change of personality and attitude towards life. Physical appearance also changes approach to life, now more of a attractive woman with a sense of style and elegant clothing, compared to her incredibly old drab/ tat tee clothing, which evidently caused her to have a shapeless figure.
Another change in Shirley’s attitude is that she accepts a date with Costas, this helps to raise self- confidence and self esteem. Your able to the full transformation, when you see her sailing around in the boat in search for geek islands with Costas and wildly decides dip skinny- dip with him by her side, this a excellent example of the difference between Liverpool Shirley (she would have found that insane) and Greece Shirley(who finds happiness in everything) Shirley becomes attached to the beauty of Greece and decides to stay, she no longer speaks in voice over which is very important to establish that she’d not trying to please anymore.
My final impression of Shirley’s character is a woman of confidence, sensitivity and strength (she now can stand up for herself and what she believes in).Noticed by Joe as he arrives at Greece’s luminous beaches he sees a attractive woman watching the horizon, but is not able to recognise his wife. The absence of her husband illustrates her living a dead marriage, giving Shirley Valentine gives a clear idea of Willy Russell intentions with the play. A woman leaves her husband, in order to find herself and a life of fulfilment, especially for a working class woman. The initial purpose is that nobody should be restricted by what others perceive their status to be. Shirley character can benefit people around the world, making them understand that life is what you make it, people can also be influenced and learn from the play so that they don’t do the mistakes that Shirley once did. Willy Russell based the play on women during the ages of kitchen sink drama who were educated to be house wives and Willy Russell explains problems caused by woman forced into becoming housewives and explains it very well to send the message cross to the audience.
Overall, the transformation of Shirley Bradsel to Shirley Valentine during her being middle aged, helps us to reveal how Russell feels about age, that age should not stop people from achieving their amibitions.