Dir: Coky Giedroyc. UK-US. 1999. 97mins.
Although a long time in the works for the talent involved (it is Rocket Pictures' first production to hit the screens since the company was founded five years ago and director Coky Giedroyc's follow-up to her noted 1997 debut, Stella Does Tricks), Women Talking Dirty represents a severe disappointment. Substantially re-edited since its poor reception at the 1999 Toronto Film Festival, the film now has a dated feel. It will also suffer further from the intervention of other British female buddy movies, such as Beautiful Creatures and Me Without You, as well as from higher-profile romantic comedies like Bridget Jones's Diary. International prospects are slim and a swift passage to video is indicated on its home turf.
Told in a series of flashbacks, the story tracks the turbulent relationship between two young women over several years. Flamboyant, kooky Cora (Bonham Carter) drops out of university after becoming pregnant by her feckless French boyfriend Claude (Julien Lambroschini), who promptly disappears from the scene. Ellen (McKee) is a shy but successful cartoonist who is head-over-heels in love with her equally ne'er-do-well husband (Purefoy), a compulsive gambler. Meeting in a pub where they have both gone to drown their sorrows, the women strike up a friendship in adversity which is tested by the revelation of a startling secret midway through the film.
Around them clusters a small group of acquaintances including Ellen's quietly lovelorn boss (Nesbitt), an incisive female neighbour (Atkins) and two male gay friends (by now an inevitable cliche of this genre) - in this case, an elderly couple (Richard Wilson and Kenneth Cranham) whose stability and affection stand in contrast with the film's stormy heterosexual liaisons.
For a British audience, the title irresistibly evokes the popular BBC TV sitcom about rowdy single males, Men Behaving Badly - but in this context, it is a puzzle. A brief prologue includes some mildly raunchy dialogue but Isla Dewar's adaptation of her own novel contains, overall, a sad absence of dirty talk and indecorous behaviour. Rather than being a tale of female empowerment, it is about women who are consistently defined by and often victims of their romantic misadventures.
Set in a colourful, idealised Edinburgh, Women Talking Dirty is attractively shot and designed, with polished technical credits. But, fine performers though McKee and Bonham Carter are individually, their characters are thinly written and they can't generate much chemistry from the supposedly volatile relationship between them.
Prod cos: Rocket Pictures, Jean Doumanian Productions
Dist (UK): UIP
Int'l sales: Sweetland Films
Exec prods: JE Beaucaire, Jean Doumanian, Elton John
Prods: David Furnish, Polly Steele
Scr: Isla Dewar, based on her own novel
Cinematography: Brian Tufano
Prod des: Lynne Whiteread
Eds: Patrick Moore, Budge Tremlett
Music: Simon Boswell, Elton John
Main cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Gina McKee, Eileen Atkins, James Nesbitt, James Purefoy