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Mrs Henderson Presents - Review

Mrs Henderson Presents

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of Documentary; Production Photography; Director’s Commentary; Theatrical Trailer; TV Spots.

DAME Judi Dench provides yet another masterly performance in Mrs Henderson Presents, a fascinating and often pertinent look at the wealthy widower responsible for opening London’s first nude revue in the 1930s.

Dame Judi revels in the opportunity to play a character who embodies many of her strengths as an actress – from integrity and determination to triumph against the odds, to stubborness mixed with cheekiness.

Her glib deliveries and fondness for mischief enliven the film, serving to compensate for some of its weaker elements.

Directed by Stephen Frears, Mrs Henderson Presents picks up in 1937, as Laura Henderson (Dame Judi) has just buried her beloved husband and struggles to find something to spice up her boring life.

In a bold move, she buys the rundown Windmill Theatre in the heart of London’s Soho and then enlists the charismatic showbiz pro, Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), to manage it.

Even though she knows nothing about running a theatre, Mrs Henderson persists in visiting The Windmill whenever the opportunity affords, continually bumping heads with Van Damm and eventually becoming banned for her endless interference.

Yet the love-hate relationship that ensues gives rise to some daring concepts, with Van Damm being responsible for Revudeville, or non-stop entertainment, which was a first for the capital, and Mrs Henderson then taking things one step further by putting naked girls on stage for the first time.

The nude revues subsequently became so popular at The Windmill that it continued to put on shows throughout the bombing of London during the Second World War, providing laughter and entertainment for Britain’s beleaguered troops.

Frears’ film functions on several levels, acting as both an intriguing history lesson and a relevant character study in the wake of the new threat posed to our capital from a different kind of bomber.

It also provides fascinating insights into the charismatic relationship shared by Mrs Henderson and Van Damm.

Needless to say, both Hoskins and Dame Judi shine, particularly when working together, while Kelly Reilly, as Mrs Henderson’s friend and leading naked lady, Maureen, is superb in spite of a somewhat restricted screen-time.

She is undoubtedly the film’s biggest revelation, commanding the limelight whenever she is afforded the opportunity.

The same cannot be said for Will Young who, as Van Damm’s right-hand man and The Windmill’s lead singer, fails to provide any real emotional range until he starts singing and is given more screen time than he deserves.

Frears’ film also falls prone to a certain amount of predictability (particularly in its depiction of the fate of certain characters) which cheapens the resolution of some story arcs.

But there’s no denying the film has its heart in the right place and it looks suitably spectacular.

Mrs Henderson works in spite of its shortcomings to provide a highly enjoyable expos√© of one of London’s true theatrical characters.