Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for nudity and language
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young, Kelly Reilly, Christopher Guest, Thelma Barlow
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay: Martin Sherman
Review published April 5, 2006
Loosely based on a true story, Mrs. Henderson Presents features a look into the heyday of the famous Windmill Theatre in London before and during the World War II era. Dame Judi Dench (Die Another Day, The Importance of Being Earnest) plays eccentric 70-year-old owner of the company, Laura Henderson, recently widowed and wanting to do something exciting with her remaining years. With assistance from her theatre manager Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins, Son of the Mask), they concoct a revue featuring nudity, quite similar to the Parisian revues, and quite unheard of in conservative England -- it becomes a smashing success. Popular with the British soldiers in the time of war, particularly because of its bomb shelter-like underground architecture, it becomes quite the hot spot for the troops and citizens of the area.
Full of terrific performances and stellar sets and costumes, Mrs. Henderson Presents is an eye-catching and pleasant comic drama, with musical leanings, that may not leave a lasting impression, but it is amiable enough in nature to please most audiences. It's an interesting historical piece, showing a side of civilian life not usually shown in wartime era films, with a theme that art can help the war effort with morale and some choice escapism from the harrowing events of the day.
Mrs. Henderson Presents is well conceived enough to earn critical praise, although it does leave one wanting in the dramatic department. As a story of the theatre, there isn't much emphasis on how these wonderful shows all come together, seeming like they were thrown together on a whim, without hardly an effort, despite being obviously highly imaginative and expertly choreographed. The characters are all colorful and lively, and yet, there is little feeling for them, while some of the more serious events that occur later in the film aren't nearly as effective, with an overriding sense of self-importance that overreaches by quite a bit.
Ultimately, Stephen Frears' (High Fidelity, The Grifters) dessert film is worth seeing for the splendid moments, but this isn't the rousing and meaningful film that merits must-see status for those not into films about the theatre. This is a movie one sees for the performances of Dench and Hoskins, the eye-candy experience of the production design and, of course, the nude bodies prominently on display in many scenes. Pleasant, professionally made fluff.
©2006 Vince Leo