Mrs Henderson Presents

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What's juicy about Mrs H is that she remains unapologetically upper-class. She couldn't change a light bulb, or boil an egg. Why, for heaven's sake, bother? She has "people" for that. She is an ingrained racist, which means gushingly patronising and anti-Semitic, not that she would ever consider herself mean spirited, or unkind.

"It is quite permissible to help the poor," she opines.

She is what we like to call "eccentric," someone who takes an arrogant approach to rules and regulations, or can afford to do what she wants without fear of getting into the bank manager's bad books.

After the long-suffering Mr H pops his clogs, she finds widowhood difficult to come to terms with. What does one DO? Her friend (Thelma Barlow), who married a lord (lucky gel!), makes a number of suggestions - charity work, shopping, lovers.

"I'm almost 70!" Mrs H retorts, shocked.

"You are also extremely rich," replies her friend, with a secret smile. "I find the one cancels out the other."

Instead of a toy boy, she invests in a rundown theatre off Shaftsbury Avenue in London's West End and renames it The Windmill, after the street in which it resides. She knows nothing about showbiz, or any other kind of biz, but that doesn't put her off. One of the attributes of the British colonial system - Mrs H was in India when it was "one of ours" - is having the opportunity to perfect the art of delegation. To work, after all, has always been "common."

She hires a little man with strong opinions and some experience in vaudeville. She likes his spirit, despite suspecting him of being a Dutch Jew, with the suspiciously foreign name of Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). Also, he's her size. She likes that, too, and calls him affectionately "V D."

Why make a film about a posh old bird and an emporium of entertainment? The Windmill became famous for being the only theatre in London during the Blitz that never closed. Also, it showed ladies in the nude. They weren't allowed to move, of course, otherwise the Lord Chamberlain - a chum of Mrs H's, naturally - would have come down on them like a ton of bricks.

Martin Sherman's script is witty; Judi Dench has terrific fun with Mrs H; Stephen Frears directs with sensitivity, not to say aplomb. The girls are pretty, especially Maureen (Kelly Reilly), who is given her own soft-centred sub plot. The film captures the wartime mood of innocence and defiance beautifully, and yet...

"You all want love," Mrs H lectures Maureen, "We got along fine without it."

Passion is repressed; the heart remains under lock and key; sex has no place (on screen) amongst so much naked flesh.

Mrs H's prejudices reflect Mr Churchill's nationalist bombast.

"We must have British nipples," she decrees, during a tits audition.

V D complies.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2005
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Mrs Henderson Presents packshot
Celebrating patriotic nipples and a theatre that never closed.
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Read more Mrs Henderson Presents reviews:

The Exile **1/2
Anton Bitel **1/2

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Martin Sherman

Starring: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young, Kelly Reilly, Thelma Barlow, Christopher Guest, Elise Audeyev

Year: 2005

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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