Dame Judi Dench and nudity are two subjects that have probably never been uttered in the same sentence before. However, in his newest film “Mrs. Henderson Presents” (BBC Films), director Stephen Frears (“High Fidelity”) manages to connect the two, with crowd-pleasing results.
Laura Henderson (Dench) is a recently widowed woman living in Britain during the 1930s. On a whim, she purchases the abandoned Windmill Theater. With the assistance of theatrical producer Vivian Van Damm, (Bob Hoskins, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), she assembles a cast of eccentric characters lead by Bertie, the charismatic, flamboyantly gay lead singer (cinema newcomer Will Young) and Maureen, the romantically challenged chorus girl (Kelly Reilly, “Pride and Prejudice”). In an attempt to save their rapidly falling profits, Laura and Vivian devise an idea to perform continuous nude reviews in the theater. When the Nazis invade France, the morale of the British troops and the besieged British people is dropped squarely onto the shoulders of the beautiful, scantily clad chorus girls.
The computer graphics and special effects are far less than stellar. In the many scenes that occur during the relentless Germany firebombing of Britain, the audience can practically see the green screen being used – reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the deck of the Titanic. However, this flaw is the only negative aspect of the film.
The chemistry achieved on screen by stars Dench and Hoskins is very powerful, yet frustrating at the same time. The characters are both so strikingly similar that you keep rooting for the two to end up together. They are also at the front of a truly talented cast. A new face for American audiences, Will Young does an incredible job providing the film’s comedic relief, while at the same time providing the emotional depth needed in this chapter of Europe’s past. Young also takes the helm, singing and dancing on the film’s many music numbers. He successfully holds his own against the seasoned veteran Dench. Also not to be outdone is Kelly Reilly, fresh off her appearance as Caroline Bingley in “Pride and Prejudice.” She adds a realistic venerability to her normally witty and rather icy character of the lead showgirl Maureen.
Finally, the dialogue in the movie is incredible, further enhanced by the stellar timing of the talented cast. No one is safe – the French, the Americans and the even the British stars have no problems poking fun at themselves. The good-humored jabs at the stereotypical British reserve provide many of the biggest laughs throughout the film.
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” has one thing that has been missing from many of the recent studio epics: heart. The leading performers and the talented newcomers combine to give witty, courageous performances to reflect this dark period in British history. While it may initially appear to be a chick flick (after all, with the exception of the James Bond series, which Dame Judy film isn’t?) it encompasses much more. With the magic combination of tasteful nudity, history and musical numbers, this movie should appeal to a wide variety of moviegoers.
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” will be in theaters on Christmas Day.
This article appeared in the December 8, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.