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Awesome: 13.95%
Worth A Look: 37.21%
Just Average44.19%
Pretty Crappy: 2.33%
Sucks: 2.33%

5 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Mrs. Henderson Presents
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by Todd LaPlace

"Cheeky, peachy and so much fun. And boobs too!"
4 stars

Okay yes, “Mrs. Henderson Presents” is the Weinstein’s 2005 pick for easy-to-swallow Oscar bait. It’s got an indie heritage, the foreign credibility, a beloved arthouse director and a cast that includes perennial nominee Judi Dench, who could probably earn a nomination off an Internet video of her rendition of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” (which would be called a classic, post-modern take on domestic violence and an allegorical discussion of contemporary world politics). It’s pretty good too.

Why does every cheeky British comedy seem to start at a funeral? I guess on the other side of the pond, death always begets laughter, so in the tradition of “Saving Grace” (proper old woman sells pot) and “Calendar Girls” (proper old women pose naked), may the Brits present “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” It’s got a proper old woman, more than its fair share of naked women (and a few men to boot) and…well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Having just lost her husband, Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) is immediately bored with the idea of being an aristocratic widow. She pricks her fingers when she tries embroidery, she makes inappropriate remarks to her social groups and she’s decided she’s too old to take on a lover (even though her wealth makes her desirable, despite her 70-something age). The only choice left open to her is to frivolously spend her money on odd knick-knacks, new hats and excessive amounts of jewelry…or a boarded-up, run-down, old theater called the Windmill. You know, either one. Knowing nothing about the theater (is was an impulse buy, after all), she hires stage producer Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), a grumpy man who’s more than capable of matching Mrs. Henderson witty insult for witty insult and whom she will eventually confirm is indeed Jewish (it’s a penis reference, in case you’re wondering).

Director Stephen Frears, the man behind the wonderful “High Fidelity” and the even better “Dirty Pretty Things,” does wonders keeping the film light and airy, which is commendable with two such serious actors heading his production. But it’s obvious all three are deriving great joy out of bringing the real life story of the Windmill to the screen, and honestly, how could they not? When the Windmill starts losing money (after every other theater in London starts coping their smash success, Revudeville), Mrs. Henderson spearheads the most obvious (and most scandalous) moneymaking scheme; tweaking the show into an all-nude girl revue. After conning her old friend, Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest), the Lord Chamberlain (the government’s official theater censor during the 1930s and ’40s), into labeling her show “art,” she hires five innocent country girls (Van Damm insisted they have nice “British nipples”) to stilly and silently stand nude on stage while horny English lads leered and caterwauled from the audience.

Working from a true story set in 1930s London is sure to reach an excessively complicated and decidedly dramatic climax when the war begins, but screenwriter Martin Sherman skillfully weaves it into the narrative. While discussions about the trimming of pubic hair are replaced by rumors of the concentration camps (you knew that circumcised penis bit had a point, didn’t you?), the movie never loses its fun and frivolity, which is exactly the point. During the real bombing of London, the Windmill Theater was the only West End house to stay open, largely because it was both underground (protection from the explosions) and provided a much needed escapism for the soldiers about to ship out to the front lines. Even during the patriotic songs, the nudity serves its purpose. When one bomb strikes too close for anyone’s comfort, nude girl Maureen (the fantastic Kelly Reilly) defiantly flashes an inverted V sign, the British version of the finger (to huge applause), before returning to her naked pose.

“Mrs. Henderson Presents” does have a few fundamental problems, most notably a lack of originality, but they’re easy to overlook. The story itself is interesting — especially for those of us that have never heard of the Windmill Theater — but it’s actually little more than standard British comedy. The old ladies are vulgar (hearing Dench use the word “pussy” is priceless), defiant (don’t try to ban Mrs. Henderson from her own theater) and unabashedly insane (Mrs. Henderson’s joy ride is in a two-seat propeller plane bound for France), but they’re always capable of moments of eloquent clarity, especially about their family. I guess we should be thankful these imports are just so damn fun.

By now, the British comedy everyone is most familiar with is “The Full Monty,” but don’t be fooled by that overrated slice of inappropriate male nudity. If you’re looking to cleanse your palate with more blimey fun, go for “Saving Grace.” Seeing the refined Brenda Blethyn get high off of talk show host Craig Ferguson’s marijuana is worth the rental fee.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12873&reviewer=401
originally posted: 07/13/06 04:37:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/05/08 David Cohen Like Anuntie Mame: If mame were an unlikeable vulgarian 2 stars
3/19/07 David Pollastrini Some hot women in this! 3 stars
12/06/06 chienne A charming, funny film. Enough to stick it up the upper class. BH looking quite dapper. 4 stars
9/13/06 Patrick Petty a charmng period pace. Dame Judy never disappoints 4 stars
2/03/06 jcjss wonderful, touching, smart, great acting, fine musical and tribute to 'the stage etc. 5 stars
1/03/06 john bale Dench and Hoskins at their best in nostalgic loving look at the Windmill Theatre 4 stars
12/28/05 Mo Baxter Excellent movie, great fun. Will Young's singing captured the era perfectly. 5 stars
12/28/05 barbara briggs absolutley fantastic,especially WILL YOUNG(BERTIE) 5 stars
12/28/05 Gill Proudfoot This is a wonderful film! Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins are all outstanding. 5 stars
12/22/05 Helen Bradley Not to be missed great entertainment 5 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Frears captures the tone & style of the era; teaming of Dench/Hoskins most entertaining 4 stars
9/12/05 bankrbear Wonderful prduction first rate cast that truly sparkles 5 stars
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  09-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 18-Apr-2006



Directed by
  Stephen Frears

Written by
  Martin Sherman

  Judi Dench
  Will Young
  Christopher Guest
  Bob Hoskins
  Anna Brewster
  Kelly Reilly

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