Publicity Stills of "Mrs Henderson Presents"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

Genre: Comedy
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly and Will Young
RunTime: 1 hr 43 mins
Released By: GV & Festive Films
Rating: M18 (Nudity)
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/mrshenderson

Opening Day: 23 Feb 2006


London, 1937. Mrs Laura Henderson, a woman of wealth and connections, has just buried her beloved husband. And now she's bored. At 69, she is far too energetic and vital to fade into gentle widowhood. To the shock of her friends she decide to buy a theatre - the Windmill
theatre in the heart of Soho. She knows nothing about running it, so she hires a manager: enter Vivian Van Damm. His idea for Revudeville, or non-stop entertainment, is a first, and the Windmill is packed - until other theatres copy it. Then it's Laura's turn to devise another first -
having naked girls on stage!

Movie Review:

If there’s one thing that must be made clear about “Mrs Henderson Presents”, it’s what lies at its core. “Mrs Henderson Presents” is not a musical. “Mrs Henderson Presents” is not about theatre. “Mrs Henderson Presents” is not a film glorifying fame. This film is about an elderly woman, a lonely albeit childish widow who manages to become a spark of hope in the midst of chaos through her trials and tribulations in life. And of course, we see tons of humour. British humour.

Everything about this film looks picture-perfect. The set-up of West End London is beautiful, with throngs of convincing casts walking the streets and neon signs lining the buildings. Brands such as Guinness and Wrigley that stood the test of time are also prominently displayed on buildings. Especially noteworthy is the setup of the “Windmill” theater (which is the theatre purchased by Mrs Henderson and subsequently run by a Jew Mr Vivian Van Damm), where almost everything looks elegant and posh despite the lack of spatial consideration. However, it’s the theatre girls who will take the audience’s breathe away. With their nude stage performance and authentic singing vocal, the audiences are transformed back in time to savour the glamour of (in Mrs Henderson’s term) “French Postcard” girls.

This film also illustrates numerous positive and desirable human traits that truly make it shine. One of these is perseverance, which involves moving out of our comfort zones and trying something new. Despite strong objections from her close friend on her starting a theatre business, Mrs Henderson decides to pursue her dreams and achieves it at all cost. She is thus a moving inspiration in this endeavor. However, what’s even more interesting is Mrs Henderson’s creativity. While being stopped by bureaucratic officials on the public display of nudity, she manages to manoeuvre her way out this hopeless situation by negotiating still displays of nudity as artworks instead of the gratuitous offerings of human anatomy. Mrs Henderson should also be admired for her courage, often giving thought-provoking and inspiring speeches as well as using terms that are usually not considered socially polite in British upper-class social circuit.

Despite all this factors, this film will never shine without the lead actress Judi Dench’s acting finesse. Often seen as a strict heiress who controls her family with an iron hand or a no-nonsense agent M in “Die Another Day” (2002), she seems to have been stereotyped in such roles. This film proves once again that Judi Dench does have a wide range of acting abilities. It also proved that mature female actresses do have a place in Hollywood, if they are offered the right roles. This will reinforce the firm standing of experienced actresses the likes of Diane Keaton and Shirley MacLaine. What’s mesmorising about Judi Dench’s performance in this role is her strong ignorance of this world. In her seventies, Judi’s character Laura Henderson has almost a childlike relish for life, savoring its every moments and seeing the good in everyone (which almost bears a close resemblance to the personality of Oskar Schindler). And she brings this characteristic of hers to its peak when she realises that human nature is dual-natured, that there is good but also evil, and that appearances can sometimes be deceiving. It’s the tainting of her rose-tinted glasses, her experiencing an epiphany of this fact but still choosing to believe in the good that makes this film a break-through.

And Judi Dench’s performance could not have stood out if not for her interesting banter with her theatre manager Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). Bob Hoskin’s excellent portrayal of a domineering and yet at times sensible individual gives this film a perfect varnish. His character, with his directorial actions, acts as a complete antithesis to Mrs Henderson’s childlike and at times illogical approach to making decisions. Together, they are a perfect pair. And there are few couplings in films of recent years that have developed a rapport that work that well.

Enjoy the ride while watching the transformation of the “Windmill” theatre’s “Revudeville” performance from a small-time event to a continuous display of courage through artistic performances. And ultimately turning into an epitome of haven for the locals while the German warplanes rained their bombs down on Britain during the World War.

The remarkable display of courage, love and perseverance in this film has definitely made it a gem of its times.

Movie Rating:

(An overt display of the remarkable achievements through artistic endeavours. A brilliant film!)

Review by Patrick Tay

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