Shirley Valentine is Shirley Bradshaw’s maiden name. Shirley Bradshaw (Pauline Collins) is a bored working-class housewife. Her friend, Jane (Alison Steadman), wins a trip for two to Greece and offers to take Shirley with her. Shirley leaves pre-packaged meals in the freezer and a note for her husband, Joe Bradshaw (Bernard Hill), telling him she’ll be back in two weeks.
While in Greece, Costas (Tom Conti), a local beachside café owner, invites Shirley on a sailing tour around the island. While on the boat, Shirley realizes that she is wasting her time back home and wants to live life again. She demonstrates this by skinny-dipping with Costas and then making love on the boat.
Vacation over, Shirley and Jane go the airport but only Jane gets on the plane. Shirley rushes back to the beach to ask Costas for a café job, but finds him using the same sailing tour pick-up line on another tourist! This doesn’t bother Shirley because she is not in love with Costas; she is in love with the thought of finally living her life. Shirley gets the job and lives life in Greece as if she were a local.
While she is gone, Joe realizes how much he misses Shirley. He travels to Greece to bring her back and is surprised to find that his wife has become a relaxed, confident woman. They have a drink as the sun sets, the camera pulls back and the credits roll over an ambiguous ending. Are they are discussing changes that must occur back home if/when Shirley returns? Or, maybe Shirley is refusing to go back and will keep her new life in Greece?