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Casting The Film
"When it came to casting, we wanted a couple of real movie stars,” producer Nick Barton says. Sometimes what you want is what you get. Among the first actresses to be sent the screenplay were Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, for the roles of Chris and Annie respectively. The Academy Award®-nominated stars needed little persuading to sign up. 

Says Mirren, "All great films have a combination of humor and seriousness and this screenplay managed that balance beautifully. I was immediately aware of how sensitive Tim Firth and Nigel Cole were to the delicacy of the subject matter. I loved the character of Chris and after meeting Tricia, I realized that Tim had certainly tapped into her dynamism and energy. Chris is the kind of person who would jump into the wrong end of a swimming pool. She jumps before she thinks, she's spontaneous and gets overexcited about things that mean a lot to her. But that spirit gives her the courage, commitment and passion about what she does.” 

For Mirren, working on the film brought rich rewards. "I've never worked on an ensemble film like this. A film about a group of women in middle age is a very rare beast and it's been fantastic working with a group of such experienced and talented women. And such a group of actresses could have proved intimidating for a director. But Nigel handled us with exactly the right mix of charm and humor. I called him ‘Our Fearless Leader'.” 

For Julie Walters, the part of Annie posed an unusual problem. "When I first read the script, I thought ‘Who is Annie?' because Chris is so much larger than life that Annie disappears into the background. I was very keen to meet Angela Baker on whom Annie is based, not to do an impersonation of her, but to witness her relationship with Tricia, who is the model for Chris. I met all the women together and they are all very funny and witty. At first, I thought Angela was very shy, but first impressions are misleading. She's not shy; she's actually a strong, clear person. Then I realised what made up Chris and Annie: Annie sits back and watches whereas Chris barges in almost without thinking. And Annie loves that because it's the opposite of her. 

"With a film like this, which is inspired by actual events and where the characters are inspired by real people,” says Walters, "you have a much greater responsibility, so we've had to be extra sensitive. But Angela was very open and talks about what happened with great candour. And that has made it easier for me to get to grips with the character of Annie. It's been a great relief for me to play her because I normally play the one who rushes in and never stops talking. It's been the most relaxed film I've ever done!” 

The decision to cast against type came from director Nigel Cole. "Probably the best call I made was offering Helen Mirren and Julie Walters the roles of Chris and Annie in that order,” he says. "Helen usually plays the quiet, sad one – "Gosford Park” and "Last Orders” were low energy, understated roles and in "Prime Suspect” she's quite dour. Julie usually plays the loud, active one - look at "Personal Services” and "Billy Elliot.” I knew that Helen's vulnerability would soften Chris, while Julie's wicked sense of humor would liven up Annie.” 

With Mirren and Walters committed to the film, Cole and his producers succeeded in attracting some of Britain's best actresses for the remaining women - Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Annette Crosbie and Linda Bassett. 

Penelope Wilton took on the role of Ruth, whose story is completely fictional. It afforded Wilton much artistic license in bringing the character to life. "Ruth is the most timid of the group and is married to a rather charismatic carpet salesman whom she doesn't know is two-timing her,” says the actress. "There is a sad element to Ruth's story, but the crux of the whole film is about the friendship between women and<

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