Mrs. Henderson Presents
Feel-good titty-fest. Yer usual Brit affair.
There is an unwritten rule which seems to be adhered to religiously by British film makers when they actively seek out foreign interests. That rule is not to invest anything by way of envelope-pushing narrative technique or edgey direction, but rather to slap the same old same old into the microwave on reheat. By "same old same old" I am of course referring to the Hollywood stereotype of the irrepressible British upper lip and that quintessential quirky humour. Unfortunately Mrs. Henderson Presents does nothing to dispel these mainstays of our nation's commercially minded cinematic output, but it does at the very least paint them in the broadest, most accessible and, admittedly, entertaining of strokes, while rather refreshingly body-swerving too much of that patented "idiosyncratic Hugh Grant-style" vibe that seems to have insisiously seeped into all our exports of late. That and it has naked ladies in it with their boobies out and everything. Tee hee!
You may or may not be familiar with the story of London's Windmill Theatre. Purchased in the 1930s by rich, mildly eccentric, aristocratic widow Laura Henderson (here portrayed by Judi Dench) it became famous for it's pioneering non-stop schedule and, more importantly, it's risque nude shows which no doubt managed to keep many a British end up when World War Two took the edge off everyone's day. In fact the Windmill is perhaps most famous for being the only business in London not to close while the Luftwaffe were blitzing as much of the city as possible into increasingly tiny pieces of rubble. As the bombs kept falling the belles kept performing, and it's this steadfast refusal to concede to adversity which marks the core of Mrs. Henderson's spirit. Tried and tested? Yes. Unfortunately endearing Oh, go on then.
Yes, it may well be trying in more ways than one for the title of "This Year's Full Monty", but like Karl Urban said recently in a puff piece for Doom "I'm not going to lie to you; I loved it". As much as you'd like to pick big holes in every aspect of it's pre-fab nature, Mrs. Henderson is just so damn likeable that it'd be like sticking your right foot between the eyes of an adorable puppy. Puppies of a different kind being on the agenda here, of course. Did I mention the tits already? Yes, anyway, Martin Sherman's script may be unlikely to trouble the awards wranglers too much, being as it is an entirely acceptable overhaul of the usual "triumph over adversity" malarkey with good chunks of almost every other British comedy-drama of the last decade pasted in for good measure. It's a mildly surprising choice of project for director Stephen Frears who here shies away from tackling the issues surrounding the movie's central conceit and instead sets about creating what is basically a feel-good movie with plenty of belles (haw haw!) and a good few wolf whistles.
Which is not to say that everything is peachy, as amidst the dropping bombs and exploding skyline there will be blood. Oh yes, there will be blood. Fortunately enough Frears and co don't dwell on the bad times long enough to get the audience down, hurtling on instead to the next goggle-eye inducing performance from the girls and witty repartee betwixt Henderson and her Theatre Manager of choice Mr. Vivian Van Damm (the irrepressible Bob Hoskins). Between Dench and Hoskins there is a decent enough ammount of love/hate chemistry to fuel an odd little relationship sub-plot kind of deal that could almost have provided the centre point for a movie of it's own, Van Damm's efficient handling of financials and artistic hoopla counter-pointing Henderson's frustratingly overbearing idiosynchracies. Both performances are beyond much fault so far as is required of the genre, and while neither threatens to set the cinema alight both leads prove to be, well... quite as charming as the movie would suggest I suppose.
Heading up the troupe of performing girls is Maureen (Kelly Reilly), a stunning young lady assessing her place in life who finds that performing naked on stage amidst raining artillery can sometimes be the place she feels most protected from the world. A young veteran of stage arts hers is a feisty enough performance that should serve her well in the eyes of foreign moguls, and there's little doubt this will springboard her onto better things. As for the rest of the cast very little is actually required. Fag hags will turn up hoping to catch a glimpse of Will Young in the buff, and will subsequently be very disappointed indeed, but his performance is enough to suggest there may be a place for him in the odd musical or two since that kind of thing seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance of late.
There seems very little virtue in waxing on about Mrs. Henderson for too long, as you'll immediately know if it's the kind of film you like or not. One recommendation I would make is to parents looking to take kids under 12 on the assumption that there will be nothing worse contained therein than the likes of Spider-Man. In the words of stoner Jay; booooooonnnnnnnngggg!. There is copious frontal nudity and exposed cleavage throughout, as well as your obligatory single "f" word. It's nice to see the BBFC acknowledging that there's nothing wrong with kids witnessing the naked human form so long as it's not indulging in steamy shag-antics, but until such times as this becomes the norm it may take some parents by surprise. That and the fact that Bob Hoskins' knob is surely enough to make any child run screaming from the cinema means view this with youngsters at your own peril. All in all a heartily enjoyable fare.
I award this movie 3 out of 5 Titty-Twister Units
Bob Hoskins (Vivian Van Damm)
Kelly Reilly (Maureen)