"More non-threatening Oscar bait from the Weinsteins"
“Mrs Henderson Presents” is a polite and well-meaning excursion into genteel naughtiness that will probably play well with audiences who still use the word “bawdy” on a regular basis. For them, it will be a pleasant enough experience–for others, it is a film just a little too wispy and self-satisfied with its own quaint approach for its own good.Judi Dench (who else) stars as Laura Henderson, a recently widowed woman of means who is at a loss at what to do with her life after the passing of her husband. On a whim, she decides to pass the time by using her wealth to purchase and reopen an old vaudeville theater in order to put on the only non-stop revue in all of London. When that fails to spark business, she and artistic director Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) hit upon a brilliant idea to put bums in the seats–naked girls! This causes some consternation at first–in order to prevent any lascivious notions, the government decrees that if the girls are naked on stage, they cannot be moving at all at the same time–but the show does become a hit. When World War II comes to London, Mrs. Henderson makes the bold move of keeping her theater open when all the others have closed their doors–the reasons for this are delivered in a speech that almost seems to have been crafted to be used as a clip on award shows.
Some of it is funny–the negotiations regarding what, if anything, the girls can actually do while on stage are quite amusing, especially Christopher Guest as an official who would prefer to refer to a certain area of the female anatomy as “the Midlands”–but the fact that everyone seems to be speaking in droll bon mots gets a little tiresome after a while. Later on, the film takes a turn for the dramatic (in addition to the war, there is also the subplot involving Laura innocently meddling in the affairs of one of her girls with tragic results) that just doesn’t quite jibe with the frothy tone of the rest of the material. Dench and Hoskins are both okay in their roles and director Stephen Frears (whose eclectic filmography includes “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity” and “Dirty Pretty Things”) keeps things moving smoothly enough. However, the three of them have done much better work in the past and you wonder why they decided to pool their considerable talents on something that they could have knocked out in their sleep.“Mrs Henderson Presents” is harmless enough, I suppose, and I suspect that someone will hit upon the bright idea of bringing it to Broadway in a few years. However, while there is nothing glaringly wrong with the film, there is nothing glaringly right either. As a result, the film is not much more than an ultimately inconsequential trifle that can easily be skipped unless you have an unquenchable desire to see Bob Hoskins in all his full-frontal glory.
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