Mrs. Henderson Presents Stephen Frears

Rarely do Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Christopher Guest and Stephen Frears strike out when they’re apart, so you can only imagine the quality of entertainment they bring to this WWII-era pic when combined. Dench, as she always seems to, is given an Oscar-nominated part as the titular Mrs. Henderson, first name of Laura — a wealthy widow who seeks out some fun when her husband dies two years before the war strikes. Considering her options, Laura stumbles upon a closed London theatre she decides to reopen for business. Hiring Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) as the theatre manager and potential love interest, Laura quickly finds out that in order to stay in business she needs a gimmick: enter nude women. As expected, the Windmill Theatre becomes a phenomenon, largely due to the attendance of soldiers, and both the drama and comedy unfold amidst air raid sirens and bombings. Full of highbrow comedy and featuring a charming story, which is apparently based on true events, Mrs. Henderson Presents isn’t particularly remarkable however. Where it goes right is in its casting, concocting a delicious chemistry between the two leads that is sweet, conflicted and utterly hilarious, as well as using the non-English Guest as a stuffy Lord whose permission the theatre needs to keep the show going. Also noteworthy are the marvellous costumes for the (clothed) dancers and the set design, best exemplified in the stage productions and the wartime shots of Piccadilly Circus and Central London, which Frears admits were all electronically created based on photographs and completely not of his doing. The director’s commentary is filled with enjoyable witticisms and spirit, as you’d expect, with Prears laughing along to key funny moments and noting the fact that there were ongoing arguments over whether or not it was a true story they were making. The "making of” featurette touches on the real Windmill Theatre, including interviews with the original dancers and nude models, which make the film in hindsight all the more enjoyable for its accurate, playful depiction. (Alliance Atlantis)