Movie Review: Mrs. Henderson Presents
Topic: Film & TV
Great (or very good) performances do not necessarily a great (or very good) movie make.
Mrs. Henderson Presents begins in 1937 London, where the ladies gather for condescending charity work and frilly luncheons, and the gentlemen have names like Leslie and Vivian. Dame Judi Dench plays Laura Henderson, widowed at the start of the film and left with lots of money and not much to do. She tries to involve herself with charity work, for a house of refuge for unwed mothers (or, as she calls it, "a home for future bastards"), but finds that it's not her proverbial cup of tea.
On a lark, Mrs. Henderson buys an empty theatre and decides to put on a vaudeville-type revue, the first of its kind in London. The other hook to draw crowds is that her completely refurbished Windmill Theatre will have continuous performances, so people can see shows any time of day. She hires producer Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to manage the shows, and he declares that he must have complete artistic controla demand to which she relents in theory, if not in practice. The theatre opens to packed crowds and rave reviews, and brings mirth to the city, which still suffers from the post-war/depression-era atmosphere.
Soon all the other theatres in town start continuous-performance revues, so the Windmill isn't unique, and business starts to suffer. Mrs. Henderson's plan is to do something outrageous that will set her theatre apart again: she will put on continuous performances of nude reviews. This shocking idea has to pass muster with the government, which forbids public nudity, so Mrs. Henderson presents it as art, in the way that the Venus di Milo is art. It is decided that the shows may go on, but only if the performers do not move, and simply pose in still-life tableaux.
Unfortunately, the post-war atmosphere is also a pre-war atmosphere. London isn't immune to the advances of the Nazis in World War II, and eventually, the war reaches the Windmill Theatre. But this isn't the first time that war has affected Laura Henderson, a fact that is unknown even to her business partner, Van Damm. She meddles in Van Damm's decisions, and in the lives of the girls in the show, but she can't control everything. Will the show go on? Will she?
OK, so Judi Dench is amazing. Of course she's good! She's bawdy and saucy, impatient and impetuous, outwardly confident but inwardly suffering. There are a couple of good lines that highlight her ability to be regal and shocking at the same time. She's a wonderful actress, I always like her performances, I hope she's that saucy in real lifebut it seems like she could do this role in her sleep. Am I condemning her for being too consistently good? Perhaps I am.
Other than Dench: Bob Hoskins is fine as Vivian Van Damm, but the role isn't demandingother than the fact that he has to participate in some full frontal nudity (darkly lit), eek. Kelly Reilly is fine as Maureen, the most-featured girl in the nude revues; she was better as the deliciously evil Caroline Bingley in the recent, wonderful production of Pride & Prejudice (which comes out on DVD on Feb. 28! SEE IT!). Will Young is fine as Bertie, the effeminate lead male singer; Young got his start when he was the first winner of Pop Idol, the UK original which spawned American Idol. Christopher Guest is fine (and looks oddly tall) as the politician who has to approve the nudity in the Windmill's revue. Everybody is fine, but just not very exciting, with one exception: Thelma Barlow is great as Mrs. Henderson's friend and confidant Lady Conway. She's hilarious! I wish her role were larger.
There was an actual Windmill Theatre. This movie is based on a true story, yet it doesn't need the benefit of fact to be moving at times, and funny and sad at times. But it just feels thin to melike the things that drive the tension just aren't that tense. Perhaps that's because I'm a product of my own time: the nudity that stunned 1937 London isn't shocking in today's society, and the novelty of a woman starting a new life after her husband's death isn't a novelty anymore. I laughed at times, but this movie just didn't stick with me. I'm glad I saw it, but don't need to see it again, and it won't make its way into my DVD collection.
How raunchy is it? Well, there are a lot of boobs, but it's all very still, and artistically lit. There's a moment where the showgirls demand that everyone watching the rehearsalincluding stagehandsdisrobe before they'll do it themselves for the first time; this provides about two seconds of startling exhibition, and a great line from Dench.
Mrs. Henderson Presents is currently playing at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema.
Mrs. Henderson Presents:
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