Film impacts on WI's fellowship

John Plummer and Octavia Walker

The premiere of Calendar Girls may have made the Women's Institute the hottest story in the UK this week, but the charity's ideals of "truth, justice, tolerance and fellowship" have come under pressure in the intense media glare.

Only six of the 11 real-life WI calendar girls from Rylstone in north Yorkshire attended last week's premiere in Leicester Square. The absence of the others prompted lurid newspaper accounts of how fellowship had given way to bickering after the stunt to raise £1,000 to buy a hospice sofa was turned into a blockbuster movie starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.

Reports of the split in the original calendar girls group drew a frosty response this week from the organisation's head office.

"I'm afraid we can't really comment on that kind of thing," said general secretary Jana Osborne. "You would have to talk to the film's PR company about that."

Kate Hudson, a spokeswoman for Premier PR, said: "Six women decided to get involved in the movie and five didn't. Therefore the film is about the six who did. Like all films it has been dramatised - it is not a documentary." The charity has leapt on the opportunity to shed its outdated image.

Chairman Barbara Gill welcomed the "wonderful" publicity to encourage new members to join. On the night of the premiere, the national office received 50 membership enquiries . The charity's 70 federations are also busy requesting publicity materials for special screenings of the film.

Melanie Taylor, the WI's PR officer, said the charity's 230,000 members were excited by the publicity. "There are bits of the film where they poke fun at the WI's image and it doesn't reflect what we're about, but it's very tongue in cheek. The WI is what the members want and what they make it."

Taylor added the original calendar girls were true to the spirit of the WI. "It's reflective of what we do," she said. "We see a problem and we solve it."

She said she and the chairman had both read the script. "They wanted to check a lot of things with us," she said. "The scriptwriter's mother and grandmother were both members."

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