MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS is easily one of the best films of 2005. That it didn't garner an Oscar for Judi Dench is amazing as this is one of her finest roles (in a long line of superb films!). Director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, Liam etc) has put together a film that is at once nostalgic, sophisticated, intelligent, witty, sad, and thoroughly entertaining. This little film is a winner.
London, 1937, and Laura Henderson, having lost her only son in WW I is discovered at the graveside of her recently departed husband. Not wanting to be stuck with the British widow stance, she decides on a hobby to occupy her time: she buys, renovates and readies a theater in the West End of London, hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to be her impresario and the two successfully begin a music hall type of entertainment. Their efforts are soon so imitated that their income falters, giving Mrs. Henderson a new concept: she will introduce full nudity into her theater to replace the French postcard surrogates the soldiers carry. Mrs. Henderson is indefatigable, has a laceratingly funny relationship with Van Damm, and even manages to cajole the politicians to go along with her 'new concept'. By now WW II is at it s peak and despite the London blitzkriegs the theater manages to survive, but not without some sacrifices and some self-revelations between Mrs. Henderson and Van Damm. There are many little subplots involving the company of performers, but they all blend nicely into the poignant story.
Judi Dench is absolutely radiant in this role, a role that allows her to cover a wide gamut of moods, each of which she handles expertly. Likewise, Bob Hoskins gives the performance of his rich career and the other cast members in this ensemble piece could not be better. The music and staged numbers are delightful and the atmosphere of London under siege is very realistic. In every way this is a successful movie, one that deserves a wide audience and one of those DVDs worthy of placing in your film library. A hearty Bravo! to all concerned! Grady Harp, April 06
Last year's cinematic celebration of the London theatre scene was BEING JULIA, in which Annette Bening plays a no-longer-young stage actress of the late 1930s, who has hitherto starred in the productions her theatre-owner husband stages, and who crafts a delicious revenge against a fresh-faced protege whom her spouse hires and falls in love with.
Based more on actual events, and also set in the late 1930s/early 40s, MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS has wealthy Laura Henderson (Judi Dench), on the death of her husband, purchasing and renovating a derelict cinema and renaming it The Windmill Theatre for want of anything more interesting to do in 1937. To manage the establishment from the outset, she hires strong-willed Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), who insists on having final say on their stage performances' artistic content and the day-to-day running of the place. He begins by presenting an around-the-clock vaudeville show, the 24/7 nature of which is a groundbreaking concept. This keeps The Windmill the talk-of -the-town for awhile, i.e. until other London theatres begin to imitate, and then ticket sales fall off. To regain the advantage, Laura has the idea of putting naked actresses on-stage, but then must convince the dubious Van Damm and outmaneuver the absolute veto power of the censorous city authorities, here personified by Laura's friend, Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest).
The creators of MRS. HENDERSON PESENTS have taken timeline liberties. The real Mrs. Henderson actually acquired The Windmill site in 1931, opening first with a live play, "Inquest", which proved unsuccessful. After briefly returning to screening films, a new manager, Van Damm, produced and opened the non-stop "Revuedeville" in 1932. From then on, The Windmill entered history ("We never closed") as the only London theatre to stay open throughout the war, including the Blitz.
Dench steals the show as the meddling owner, and Hoskins holds his own as her nemesis-manager. The film deftly captures their stormy, but oddly affectionate, relationship, as well as the perils of staging performances while German bombs fell. Kelly Reilly is delightful and gorgeous as Maureen, the first showgirl recruited by Hoskins for The Windmill's bill of nudie cuties.
Towards the film's end, Laura poignantly reveals why she had the idea for removing the actresses clothes. Knowing that, and seeing the reason why she made frequent pre-war visits to France, it's particularly sad when the film ends before the Allied victory and the final credits reveal that Henderson died in 1944. She left The Windmill to Vivian, who ran it until his death in 1960. Van Damm's daughter then operated the establishment until 1964, when it was unable to compete with the strip joints. Since then, the site has hosted a cinema, a casino, a nude-review theatre, and (presently) a lap-dancing club.
MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS is a thoroughly charming and unpretentious film about a little piece of London theatre history. It probably won't make it out of the art houses, but see it if you can.
Warning! Spoilers ahead:
I love popular culture, especially intelligent popular culture, but I have become progressively less and less enchanted each year with the summer blockbuster films that we are saddled with and the bloated, overwrought holiday films we are given each November and December. MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS is the perfect tonic for anyone sickened by bombastic cinema, a small, lovely, and subtle film that tries to entice you with its story rather than its special effects or massive vistas. Its ambition is to tell a small, unique period story as well as possible. In this the film succeeds.
The film tells the story of how in 1938 a newly widowed woman (played by Dame Judi Dench), for want of anything more compelling to do after the death of her husband, buys and renovates a West End London theater, which she calls the Windmill. Dench's performance is marvelous and I was greatly heartened to see that she was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Mrs. Henderson hires promoter Vivian Van Damm, who persistently denies being Jewish, as artistic director and gives him unfettered control over every artistic aspect of the operation. Bob Hoskins does his usual superb job as Van Damm (am I the only one who is under the impression that he has looked almost exactly the same for thirty years?) and much of the appeal of the film derives from the complex-combative and respectful while at the same time distantly intimate-friendship and partnership that Henderson and Van Damm form. The initial innovation of the theater is to perform musical reviews 24 hours a day, but when other theaters begin to imitate them, their ticket sales begin to decline. Mrs. Henderson then suggests that they trump the competition by having nude girls on stage. Luckily she has a connection with cabinet member Lord Cromer (played surprisingly well by American comedian Christopher Guest), who although initially hesitant to OK the nudity, finally agrees on condition that the women not move, so that they resemble art works that one might find in an art museum. The theater as a result becomes remarkably successful and continues to operate even during the worst of WW II and the Blitz. The story revolves almost entirely around the professional relationship between Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Van Damm on the one hand and the relation of all to the girls who become the nude statues on the stage.
The cast, as in most British period films, is impeccable, though in this one also somewhat unexpected. Will Young, the Pop Idol winner, turns in a pleasantly effective performance as the Windmill's leading musical performer, crooning the tunes with an appropriate period style. But apart from the two main leads, the most delightful performance is by the lovely Kelly Reilly, who plays one of the girls who model on the stage.
There is a large amount of nudity in this film, but there is virtually no eroticism. There is, in fact, less salaciousness in this film than in the vast majority of PG-13 releases. Rita Hayworth taking off her glove in GILDA is infinitely sexier than anything that happens in this movie. I might be willing to insist that this is the least sexy film to feature full frontal nudity (both male and female) ever made. Only the most serious prudes would find the tiniest thing objectionable in the film
All in all, this is an utterly delightful film. One will come away from it not thinking it one of the best films one has seen, but one will not feel sonically, visually, or intellectually abused in any way, and unlike the experience with most Hollywood movies these days, one will not feel oneself in any way insulted. This is a small but enormously satisfying film.
on March 6, 2006
Saw the movie in the theatre. The movie is wonderful. Judi Dench is fabulous. Due to tastful nude scenes and very little strong language (two words) you might be careful letting children watch.
This movie was not promoted in the US very well but it is a great movie.
on October 24, 2006
When her husband died, a feisty British dowager named Laura Henderson bought a West End theater called The Windmill, where, for the first time ever in the history of England, nude models appeared live on stage (the nudity could pass legal muster because it was presented strictly in the form of tableaux). These shows quickly became all the rage in Depression Era London, and the theater even became a beacon for morale-boosting through the dark days of the Nazi Blitz. Her cohort was a producer named Vivian Van Damm, whom the flighty Mrs. Henderson took a shine to - on both a personal and professional level - early on.
Stephen Frears` "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is what is generally known in the trade as an "actors' film," one in which the stars are the key to the movie's success. And, indeed, Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins turn in flawless performances that complement one another very nicely. Dench is all stiff-upper-lip, scenery-chewing feistiness, while Hoskins plays the part of her foil with impressive understatement. Moreover, the film is to be commended for not going for the obvious in its portrayal of the relationship between these two very different main characters (Van Damm was married and stayed true to his wife).
The script is clever, sharp and witty, with just the right amount of sentiment thrown in to give the movie the fairy tale quality it needs to succeed. In terms of the sets, cinematography and costume design, the film is a sumptuous, lovely-to-look-at, pitch-perfect re-creation of its time period.
When all is said and done, "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a lighter-than-air souffle that is quickly consumed and then forgotten. But it sure gives one a lot of pleasure while it lasts.
on April 30, 2006
The movie Mrs. Henderson Presents depicted a romantic and heroic story behind the scenes of the Windmill Theatre in WWII. Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), a wealthy widow, refurbished the underground theatre and handpicked a competent Jewish manager (Bob Hoskins) to run it. Despite, or because of, their clash of styles and temperament, the couple worked superbly as a team. Each confined to one's area of expertise, though at one time Mrs. Henderson vowed not to set foot on the theatre. Mrs. Henderson used her good connections to seek the official nod to keep the theatre open. Mr. Van Demm managed everything in the theatre, from boosting the morale of the young artists, design of the numbers and setting the posture of the nude artists.
What makes the movie special is the optimistic mood it conveys amid difficult times. Despite bombing above ground, the artists, cuddled in the basement, courageously put on a show night after night while the soldiers had something to cheer about. Judi Dench makes the old, eccentric English lady sensible, charming and endearing. Behind her sweet smile and soft-spoken tone lied an adventurous spirit and her girlish dream of true love, leading to poor judgement and disastrous results at times. And the script does Mrs Henderson justice by enabling her to justify her bold and sometimes irrational decisions with her experiences. Bob Hoskins portrays a clear headed Mr. Van Demm, caring for his extended family - the young men and women in the theatre. In addition, delightful surprises came from the beautiful singing, carefully designed stage numbers and costumes. Kelly Reilly (Ms Bingley in Pride and Prejudice), is simply a stunning beauty. She pulls off a wonderful performance in the romantic subplot - a country girl who thought, and sadly rightfully so, the stage at Windmill was the only safe place for her to be.
on August 29, 2015
This is one of the most delightful and poignant movies I've ever seen. I watched it over and over and never got tired of it. The cast is wonderful, the music delightful and the story, which is a true one, takes us back to innocent times and the spirit of the British people during the WWII. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that starred Judi Dench that wasn't wonderful. Bob Hoskins is a perfect foil for the eccentric and gutsy Mrs. Henderson. Don't miss this one. You'll come away from it feeling good!
on April 28, 2006
Those of you who can remember the 1930s, or the 1940s, or you enjoy watching the old MGM musicals on cable; should truly enjoy watching Mrs. Henderson Presents. The movie is based on true events, but is fictionalized somewhat because the director felt that musicals, and dramas have different rules.
The period of time, covered in the movie is from 1937 to 1943. The place is London England. A bored widow decides to buy a theater, and put on musical revues. She and the theater manager in order to differentiate themselves from the other theaters in the neighborhood, decide that their show must run continuously. It's quickly a hit, and quickly copied by every other business in the neighborhood.
To differentiate themselves again, they decide to have nude girls in their show. This is a problem, however, because of England's decency laws. They must get permission and a license from the Lord Chamberlain (played by Christopher Guest). He reluctantly agrees to give Mrs. Henderson the license but he stipulates that the girls must not move, so that he has some justification to call it art, and the lights must be low.
Therefore, Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), and the theater manager (Bob Hoskins) developed a series of numbers where some of the girls must stand nude in tableaux vivants, or (living pictures), while musical numbers go on around them. The effect is like when you played, freeze tag as a kid. One of the windmill theaters, most popular nude models is played by, (Kelly Reilly).
The story of what happens at the windmill theater, to the millerettes, and the rest of the theater group is a good one and should have been told long before now.
Watch the opening credits, as I feel they are unique for a modern movie. If you watch the extras on the DVD. You can even see some of the girls who worked at the Windmill theater during the war.
A sassy widow flounders to fill her time soon after her husband's funeral. She has plenty of money, so she goes way out on a limb and purchases an old theatre in London in need of restoration and a radical manager with brilliant ideas. Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Van Dam (her manager) try risky productions to keep the theatre fresh and popular. Based on true events, this film is a one of a kind story with unforgettable performances by extremely gifted actors. Well done!
Chrissy K. McVay - Author
Based apparently on a true story, the film had a certain episodic quality (like a biography) rather than the building-to-a-climax-and-denouement of fiction -- like there were a series of events that took place over a decade or so from the thirties to 1943-44. Set in England, the story begins in the thirties with a wealthy widow (Dench) returned from India who is looking for something to occupy her time. She tries the usual things and they don't work, so she ends up buying a London theater and then hiring an out-of-work Dutch theater manager (who she keeps pointing out is Jewish)to run. They begin with music hall theater (vaudeville), and then move on to some tasteful nudity (because in the meantime, WWII has begun and there are a lot of soldiers on leave to entertain.) THere are some sideplots, including a grave in France and Dench's relationship with the theater manager. Much of the film incorporates music of the period and if you like to step back in time, this is the film for you. If you're looking for a strong plot to hold your attention, there's really not a strong plot in this movie. But Dench is riveting, and all in all, it's good entertainment and a reminder of what life is like when you're in a city relentlessly under attack from bombers.