"MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Judi Dench as LAURA HENDERSON
Bob Hoskins as VIVIAN VAN DAMM
Will Young as BERTIE
Kelly Reilly as MAUREEN
Thelma Barlow as LADY CONWAY
Christopher Guest as LORD CROMER
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Directed by: Stephen Frears
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“Mrs. Henderson Presents” is a movie that I’m going to remember forever because it represented a huge emotional experience for me. I cried almost throughout the film, but not necessarily because of the movie itself. When I saw it in the theatre, I received a call from my wife that our dog – the first one we ever owned together – had passed away. So, understandably, my mind wasn’t on the film through most of it.
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Still, I liked the movie when I saw it. It was a relief to see Judi Dench get such a meaty role and wasn’t subjugated to a supporting player. While I love her as the new M in the James Bond films, and she was pretty good as Queen Elizabeth in “Shakespeare in Love,” for which she won an Oscar, she really hasn’t had much of a chance to shine as of late.
Even with the heavy heart of my nine-year-old mutt passing away, I enjoyed the film. But I was, understandably distracted.
Upon revisiting “Mrs. Henderson Presents” on DVD, I found it was a thoroughly enjoyable film. I hadn’t realized it was a true story, or at least that they hadn’t doe too much out of spirit of the original tale.
The film tells the story of a landmark figure in 1930s London – consider her the British Larry Flynt of World War II. Long before Hugh Hefner revolutionized erotica in the states, Laura Henderson (Dench) took a stab at nude performances with her theatre known as the Windmill. She had bought it out of boredom after her husband passed away, hiring well-known producer Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run the show.
However, after sagging ticket prices started taking their toll, Mrs. Henderson decided to feature nude girls in her shows. It wasn’t exactly burlesque because that wouldn’t pass the censor’s review. Instead, it was more art, which is how most erotica emerges into the public eye.
Of course, nowadays in London, I imagine the nude theatre reviews are much like the ones we have stateside. Instead of feigning art, you can watch a woman’s “midlands” (as they are called in the film) flap in the breeze while drinking a tall one. But in the 1930s, things were different.
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” isn’t really a girlie movie at all, even though you see plenty of skin throughout. Instead it’s a character study of Mrs. Henderson, showing how a woman late in life tries to bring some excitement to the otherwise humdrum routine of a wealthy widow. It also shows a bittersweet relationship between Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Van Damm as they learn to run their theatre together.
The stand-out performance (which was almost more enjoyable than the Oscar-nominated performance by Dench) is Christopher Guest as the stuffy, self-important Lord Cromer. He shines with his sharp improvisational style, and it makes me long for another “Best in Show” or “A Mighty Wind” to come around soon.
The DVD is relatively thin on bonus features, although the “Making-of” featurette is comfortably long and pretty informative. Director Stephen Frears lends his voice to a commentary track, although he’s really quite boring - almost not worth watching. Trust me, the movie’s much better than what he has to say about it.
Specifications: Dolby Digital Sound. Widescreen (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.