Mrs. Henderson Presents

In 1937 Laura Henderson, played by Judi Dench, buries her husband, returns to London and discovers that she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s tired of the perpetual gloominess that a woman of her class and circumstance is supposed to affect. When she passes an abandoned theatre on Windmill Street, she sees a way out of this trap. She buys the old building and hires Vivian Van Damm, played by Bob Hoskins, a showman of the old school to run it.

The two clash, but both enjoy the conflicts, and manage to put on a 24 hour 7 day a week review full of second rate music hall type acts. This is a smashing success until other theatres start copying the formula, then disaster looms.

But Mrs. Henderson has an idea. Why not put nude girls into the show? Because, replies Van Damm, the Lord Chamberlain, who censors theatre in London at that time would shut them down. Fortunately Mrs. Henderson knows the old boy, who’s played by Christopher Guest. They get together over lunch and work out an ingenious compromise.

Even the Blitz couldn’t shut down the Windmill. It was located below ground and Mrs. Henderson argued that it was essential to the morale of the soldiers. The Windmill remained open until the early 60’s by the way.

Mrs. Henderson Presents is the latest example of fluffily naughty British films. Think Calendar Girls or The Full Monty. This film has full frontal nudity but the light tone and innocence of a PG movie. And as such, it’s pretty good. The two leads are both excellent, even though neither of them are stretching their ranges very far. Judi Dench has a ball playing the grand and eccentric Mrs. Henderson. It isn’t a great performance, but it is fun.

Which pretty much describes the whole film.


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May 2006
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