I’m usually not one for cheeky British comedies, but there was something about “Mrs. Henderson Presents” that made me take the disc out and watch it. Ok, maybe it was the premise of the tagline suggesting “The clothes come off, but the show must go on” (or something to that effect). Yes, I’m shallow and I certainly wasn’t disappointed when it came to seeing topless women. I will say, however, that the skin I saw was overshadowed by the chemistry between Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins (who also served as the film’s Executive Producer). Dench was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but lost out to Rachel Weitz in “The Constant Gardner”. The problem with Judi Dench is that it’s hard to discriminate which of her performances are truly the better ones. Like Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep – she’s become so consistently entertaining to watch, how can one really tell what her best roles are? She’s in top form here as the eccentric Mrs. Henderson and the banter between her and Hoskins is certainly one of the film’s highlights.
I think it’s better that I knew nothing of the history of the Windmill theater and since I’ve viewed this movie I learned that most of what was told is true. They never closed. The film takes place in pre-World War II England. Mrs. Henderson (Dench) has just lost her husband. She’s bored and saddened by his loss and evidently has a great deal of money. On a whim she decides to buy a decrepit old theater in London’s West End district. She remodels it and hires Mr. Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run the place. The Windmill Theater literally never closed. They ran 5-6 shows a day when others were running 2 and it was an immediate hit. But the success is short-lived after all of the other theaters start copying their idea. Henderson comes up with the idea to show nude women in the show but has to convince Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) that nude women are “art” and not “part of the show”. This ploy works so long as the women remain still (just like the works of art in London’s museums). The Windmill Theater is once again a hit, just as Hitler and his troops are bombing London.
Director Stephen Frears is probably most-noted for his work on “High Fidelity”, a movie which has a peculiar charm of its own. “Mrs. Henderson Presents” is quite off beat and contains a number of great performances. Take, for instance, Kelly Reilly who plays Maureen – she gets a part in the play due to her “British nipples” and it goes on like that. That said, the chemistry between Hoskins and Dench is evident and it seems to emanate off the screen; you can just tell when two actors are having fun with their parts. Granted Dench, Hoskins and Frears are all British and no doubt remember the Windmill back in the glory days, so the material is close to home, to be sure. Let it be said that just because you see a “BBC America” logo before a movie, it won’t always be something like “Pride and Prejudice”. The performances in “Mrs. Henderson Presents” make for what the Windmill Theater stood for – great entertainment.
Video: How does it look?
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” is shown in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The image is gritty and has several spots where little “blips” can be seen. I’m sure this was a fairly low-budget film and though most of the film looks great, it’s these spots that pop up here and there that left an impression on me. Colors are muted as the dismal backdrop of England doesn’t have much to offer in terms of color. Most of the action takes place indoors, hence the shallow color palette. On the whole, I was a bit disappointed by the transfer (though I received a screener copy which kept showing “Property of The Weinstein Company – For screening purposes only”), so maybe the final product will look better – though I highly doubt it.
Audio: How does it sound?
The disc does contain a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but you’d hardly know it. I’d say this is on par with a Dolby Surround mix, though there are a few spots that all speakers are engaged. There are some bombs dropped that sound pretty good and the opening credits (which are very odd), do make use of all five channels. All things considered, it’s about an average track with some spots wisely made use of all 5.1 channels.
Supplements: What are the extras?
he commentary track by Stephen Frears is fairly entertaining and also shows how familiar he was with the Windmill Theater. He’s very chatty throughout which always makes for a nice track. There’s a six part featurette entitled “The Making of ‘Mrs. Henderson Presents’”, wisely divided into chapters. This covers everything from casting to creating the look and feel of WWII London. Also included are a theatrical trailer and a production photo gallery. “Mrs. Henderson Presents” really surprised me with strong performances by the leads and while the audio and video aren’t up to “usual” standards, it’s not that bad. Recommended.