Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)
Starring: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly, Will Young, Thelma Barlow, Christopher Guest
Directed by: Stephen Frears
In Mrs. Henderson Presents, which is based on a true story, Judi Dench plays the title character, Mrs. Laura Henderson, a recently-widowed wealthy woman who decides to purchase a run-down West End theatre to help cure her boredom. In this pursuit, she hires theatre director Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to put on a revue in her recently-purchased Windmill Theatre. The two are both head-strong individuals, whose quarrels resemble those of a married couple, and provide the film with many an opportunity for comic relief.
The theatre is an instant hit in London, but eventually, the Windmill falls on hard times as other theatres begin stealing their ideas. That's when Mrs. Henderson decides to include nudity in the revue, much like the plays in Paris. In doing so, she not only revitalises the Windmill, but also runs into problems with British authorities, whose Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest) hesitantly allows the performances to proceed, with restrictions, giving into the manipulations of Mrs. Henderson. The show becomes an even bigger hit as a result, continuing to play to packed crowds even as World War II and The Blitz overtake London.
I don't usually do summaries in my reviews, as I generally find them to be the most boring part of any review. But, I decided to do one here because this movie is probably unknown to most (even though it is still playing in theatres in some cities), and I'd be surprised if anyone reading this (other than my wife) has seen it. Which is unfortunate, because it is a delightful little movie that was a welcome break from all the high-minded Academy fare that I immersed myself in last week. I know it might not sound like it, after all, it is a British period piece starring Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins about the theatre, and it was nominated for two Academy Awards itself (Best Actress for Dench and Best Costume Design). But, at its heart, this movie isn't stuffy and high-minded at all. Instead, it derives most of its humour poking fun at the stuffy and high-minded. Plus... nude ladies! Yay!
Actually, the nudity in this film, while plentiful and full (as in frontal), is pretty tame. The nude women on-stage are statically posed as works of art, in a non-titillating fashion. Instead, the highlight of the film is not a naked Kelly Reilly, but the comedic performance of Dame Judi, who plays Mrs. Henderson with enthusiasm and spark. Her pluck keeps the movie moving, with her battle of wills with Hoskins and manipulation of Guest infusing the movie with energy and laughter. Behind her silly old widow exterior lies a genuine poignancy that movie develops in the final act which truly pulls at the heart-strings of the audience, and no doubt earned her the Oscar nomination.
All in all, the movie is a fun, crowd-pleasing British comedy. Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) shows a deft comedic touch here, by finding the humour and life in a movie about the indomitable British spirit during The Blitz, without devolving the material into bawdy farce (which would have been easy to do, given the content). Perhaps a little frivolous at times, given the World War II backdrop, I found it to have enough gravitas to enjoy without feeling guilty about it. The film is funny, touching, and poignant at times, and probably deserves to have had more people know about it.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
High Fidelity (2000)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)