"Mrs Henderson Presents" is another in a long line of boutique movies about the pluckiness of the British people during the Blitz, encouraging modern-day audiences to admire those stiff upper lips and resolute fortitude, while still getting a few giggles out of their cultural inclination to snicker at boobies.
And what better story could encapsulate all of that than the tale of the Windmill, the legendary West End theater that stayed open while the rest of London was shuttered, offering its musical revue -- with naked women just like the ones in Paris! -- to soldiers on their way to war?
"Mrs Henderson Presents" reframes the Windmill's saga through the person of its owner, a wealthy widow who -- as Martin Sherman's screenplay tells it -- bought the place on a dare and turned it into a smash by hiring an inventive artistic director and letting him indulge himself, all the while making his life miserable by pretending she was trying to restrain him. Sherman also suggests that Mrs. Henderson did all this so that young boys on their way to war wouldn't have to die without ever seeing a British lass with her kit off, as her own son did in WWI, which is frankly pretty creepy.
Director Stephen Frears gets two very good performances out of Judi Dench (Oscar-nominated, as usual) and Bob Hoskins as the formidable Mrs. Henderson and her bristling artist; he also gives Christopher Guest a fine cameo as the stuffy Lord Chamberlain, who decides to allow on-stage nudity on the condition that the girls be absolutely still while performing. What he doesn't do is goose the material out of its slightly predictable packaging: "Mrs Henderson Presents" is entertaining enough, in that respectable English kind of way, but the subject matter cries out for a bit of edge, just to remind us we're not watching television.
Genius Products' enhanced-widescreen DVD supports the feature with an engaging look at the production -- viewable as five featurettes or a single 27-minute documentary -- and a most unengaging audio commentary from director Frears, who speaks perhaps one sentence every five or six minutes, and still manages to repeat a number of points from his documentary interview. There's also a gallery of production photos.
STUDIO: Genius Products, Inc.
RELEASE DATE: April 18, 2006
TIME: 103 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Spanish subtitles; audio commentary; production featurettes; photo gallery.
INTERNET SITE: mrshendersonthemovie.com