Boorish Yank Judge Eric Profancik says someone's getting naked.
The show must go on, but the clothes must come off.
"The clothes must come off." Sounds good, doesn't it? But does it still sound good when you know that the female lead is Dame Judi Dench? Should you begin to worry if Dench is one of the people that might be removing her clothes? Maybe. Then what of the fact that Bob Hoskins plays the male lead? Would if ever be imaginable to wonder if he'll end up sans clothing? In a weird twist of mirror universe fate, one of these two elder statesmen of cinema will end up as naked as the day he or she was born.
Do you still want to see Mrs. Henderson Presents?
Facts of the Case
Mrs. Laura Henderson (Dench, Shakespeare in Love, Goldeneye) is a recent widow. Being quite the feisty, uppercrust old bird, the death of her husband immediately leaves her bored, wondering how he had the audacity to go and leave her alone. Her best friend tells her this is just the beginning, affording her grand possibilities to do things with her life like taking up hobbies, joining committees, and buying things. Soon, Mrs. Henderson takes her friend's advice. She begins to crotchet, but doesn't like pricking her fingers. She joins charity committees, but finds them too stuffy. Then one day while taking a drive around London, she spies the closed Windmill Theatre. On a whim, she buys it.
She revels in the opportunity to gut and renovate the theater; however, she soon realizes she has no idea what to do with it. Thus arrives Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins, Unleashed, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) to run the show. Van Damm is exceptionally talented and the Windmill Theatre is instantly popular. It's so popular that every other theater begins to copy its program. Seeing revenues dwindling, Mrs. Henderson has a bold idea, one that London has absolutely never seen before: Have the actresses go nude on stage.
Once again the Theatre is catapulted to the top due to its unique opportunity to have naked women on stage. Everything is going quite well until Adolph Hitler decides to cause some havoc in Europe, eventually leading to the bombing of London.
Will the show go on, and can the Windmill Theatre survive World War II?
Let's start off with the main reason why you might be reading this review of an "inspired by actual events" movie: naked women. Yes, there really are naked women in this film; yet, how they are presented on stage is different and part of the irony of the story. There isn't any gratuitous nudity, with bouncing breasts and sleazy close-ups of a woman's most private area. The nudity is done tastefully, is not lingered upon, and is crucial to the story. It is not the entirety of the story, so if you want lots of female flesh, you should look elsewhere.
You should be interested in this movie because of Dench and Hoskins.
I had never really heard of Dench until her "breakout" role in Goldeneye, when she brilliantly took over the role of M and added impressive credibility and gravitas to the part and to the franchise. Since then, I've come to know her work, respect her impressive credentials, and understand that she is an exceptionally gifted actress. Even when she's bored with a role, she's better than 90% of other actresses in the world. In Mrs. Henderson Presents, she imbues her character with wicked sensibility and zeal. It's an absolute pleasure to see her break the boundaries placed on her by society, having gleeful fun along the way.
As for Hoskins, it's the same sort of story with his big part in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I didn't know him, and I still really don't know him, but I've learned over the past year what a capable and solid actor he is. Unfortunately he still takes roles in really bad movies (Garfield), but sometimes even a little role sometimes goes places (Unleashed). I respect Hoskins's work, but not necessarily to the extent I do with Dench's.
In Mrs. Henderson Presents, the movie is at its best when the two are onscreen dueling with their witty repartee. The combative-yet-friendly relationship is exhilarating, leaving you to wonder who will get the upper hand in each situation. Sometimes it will be Henderson, sometimes it will be Van Damm; the viewer is always the winner watching these two have a remarkably good time playing off one another.
This movie flows through three distinct acts; each with a different personality, and each changing the dynamic of Henderson and Van Damm's relationship. While Mrs. Henderson Presents is billed primarily as a comedy, that evil bloke Hitler causes some dismay, reducing the comedic possibilities. Coupling these two ideas together, one can trace a discernible trajectory in the enjoyment of the film. The first act is pure comedy, with Dench and Hoskins interacting with well-oiled aplomb. This is the strongest segment of the film, keeping it light and fluffy with the two actors entertaining us all the way. Entering into the second act, our enjoyment falls because a plot complication arises where Dench and Hoskins do not have the opportunity to be together. Finally, the third act brings the two back together, though Hitler's entrance changes the focus to drama. The movie starts off deliciously but weakens with each act; a shame for a movie so rich with possibilities and talent. Even so this film is not a loss. It's wonderful entertainment that doesn't fully live up to its potential.
Mrs. Henderson Presents is partly a musical. As we are watching theater unfold at the Windmill, we get to watch many of the acts on stage. We do that because we need to see the naked girls; as a consequence we get the music. These musical numbers are strong, with memorable tunes. The lead male at the Windmill is Bertie, played by a chap named Will Young (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). I get the impression he's quite popular across the pond due to his presence on a show called "Top of the Pops." I know nothing of him, but I found his truly gay performance quite charming.
This disc from the newly formed The Weinstein Company is good, but it could have been much better. The 1.78:1 anamorphic print, like the movie itself, starts out strong but falters in the end. We get rich and accurate colors without any bleeding, blacks are deep and true, details and sharpness is well done, and there are no significant transfer errors until we get to the end. I found myself surprised to see in the final minutes quite a large amount of white specks on the print. At first I wasn't sure I saw it, but it happened enough to make me subtract a few points in the scoring. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is more consistent. Dialogue is crystal clear for the entire movie, and the musical scenes make all the speakers come alive. You'll feel truly immersed in the action when everyone breaks into song.
The bonus features are somewhat wanting. First up is an extremely dry track with director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Mary Reilly, Dangerous Liaisons). Perhaps not so much dry as boring, Frears leaves excruciatingly long pauses between speaking, often skipping entire scenes where I would have loved more background detail. Giving us a spot of redemption is "The Making of Mrs. Henderson Presents" (24 minutes). This featurette is broken down into five parts: "The Real Windmill Girls," "Casting the Show," "The Look," "Choreography," and "Making the Movie." Each runs about 4.5 minutes, and gives an interesting yet brief look at the making of the movie. On the whole, it's a fine feature. Rounding things out are a photo gallery and the trailer. What we could have used here is more on the actual history of the Windmill Theatre.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps you are still wondering who will, as we boorish Yanks say, drop trou in the movie? Sorry, I'm not going to tell. Doing so would ruin quite the cheeky moment and not be fair to you.
I heard other good reviews about Mrs. Henderson Presents and they were mostly right. It's a strong film with many great moments, but it also has a slow spot or two and a "made in Hollywood" side plot that can be jettisoned. Despite its few weaknesses, this is a movie you will enjoy seeing. Its strong performances by Dench and Hoskins is a wonder to watch, and you may actually learn a few interesting historical bits that may serve you well on Jeopardy! one day. I give this one a strong rental recommendation. For those looking to buy, you may be slightly disappointed with the disc.
Mrs. Henderson Presents is hereby found not guilty of public indecency.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears
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