Friday, January 06, 2006
Mrs. Henderson Presents
I went to see this movie this week, and it was a great piece of entertainment. I enjoyed it immensely.
Penetrating, lively and invigorating, Mrs. Henderson Presents is a love note to a famous London theatre, an homage to Britain's wartime experiences and an evocation of the great musicals that lit up the screen during the thirties and forties. Directed by Stephen Frears, who has offered Toronto audiences many delights over the years, it features the incomparable Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins as well as the introduction of a fresh face, Britain's 2001 Pop Idol, Will Young.
Dench plays the eccentric Laura Henderson who, at seventy years old, finds herself widowed and at loose ends. She decides to buy an abandoned Soho cinema and turns it into what would come to be the historic Windmill Theatre. Knowing nothing about the theatre, she hires the irascible Vivian van Damm (Hoskins) to run it and reopens its doors as Revudeville. Nothing seems to bring the vaudeville house to life until Mrs. Henderson has a flash of inspiration: produce a nude revue. She neatly sidesteps the censorship laws by freezing the performers as "tableaux vivants" in which the showgirls do not move a muscle. The Windmill Theatre becomes a smash hit, and when the war begins, the theatre provides a haven for thousands of young soldiers.
Meanwhile backstage, the young models on artistic freedom, but Mrs. Henderson's constant stream of ideas means the two are bound to butt heads. Indeed, they do. And what finer actors to bring this engaging duel to the screen than Dench and Hoskins?
The film is a triumphant mix of deft comedy and stunning stage numbers that recreate the nude revues that made the Windmill the British equivalent of the Moulin Rouge. All the while, spectacle is set against the more sober realities of a London that must battle bombs on a nightly basis. Frears is unquestionably at the top of his form.