Mrs. Henderson Presents Stephen Frears

Mrs. Henderson Presents Stephen Frears
It's hard to believe that the same man who directed My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears and Dirty Pretty Things is responsible for the pedestrian miscalculation that is Mrs. Henderson Presents. Though the precise recreation of early to mid-twentieth century London is responsible for some stunning visuals, Mrs. Henderson Presents ultimately looks like Cocoon meets Topsy Turvy.

Judi Dench is Mrs. Henderson, a recently widowed member of London's upper class who decides to buy a theatre and put on "revues." The realisation that she doesn't know the first thing about musical theatre causes her to enlist the help of Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). Van Damm eventually resents Henderson for her meddling and many fiery arguments follow.

Writers should use caution when dealing with frisky senior citizens. It's condescending to put an elder onscreen, have them curse, talk about sex and then expect the audience laugh. Anyone who's had a grandparent knows they're fallible human beings. So when screenwriter Martin Sherman has Mrs. Henderson say, "fuck," the moment sits onscreen like an attempt at humour rather than something that's actually funny.

Will Young, winner of the UK's Pop Idol in 2002, stars as Bertie, the revue's central performer. Though his singing is decent, his acting is incompetent; then again, he's not here for talent's sake. His job is to sell tickets, and he'll do that. After all, Mrs. Henderson Presents seems destined for English feel-good success, like Calendar Girls, The Full Monty, or more recently, Kinky Boots.

It's just too bad Henderson falls short. Spend your holiday cash seeing King Kong or Brokeback Mountain. And if you still need a fix of English Theatre history, get Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy. It's a much better film. (Alliance Atlantis)