After her husband passes away, 70-year-old Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) decides that it’s time to find some hobbies to keep herself occupied. Ever the eccentric, when a friend tells her to “buy things,” she buys an old theater instead of jewelery or clothes.
Needing someone to oversee the productions at the theater, Laura hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), an out-of-work man who has a lot of experience in show biz.
They decide to put on a show called “Revudeville,” a vaudeville variety show that quickly becomes a hit and sells out. Their innovation is that their show is continuous, running back-to-back performances rather than just a couple each day.
When other theaters copy Laura and VD’s idea, they begin losing money to the competition. Mrs. Henderson suggests than, in order to draw the crowds back, they should add nudity to the show like the Moulin Rouge of Paris.
Based on the true story of the Windmill Theater, Mrs. Henderson Presents was released in 2005 and directed by Stephen Frears. The film was nominated for two Oscars: costume design and actress in a leading role.
When I bought this film blind at Barnes & Noble in May, I expected it to be similar to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in artistic and visual style, providing a fun and glamorous portrayal of the past. It does that (which is a good thing), with an added edge of drama.
The visual elements of this film are absolutely STUNNING. So stunning that they require caps lock and repetition for emphasis. S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G. From the minute the beautifully illustrated opening credits began, I was in love. The costumes are amazing, and archival black-and-white film clips are used both in the opening titles and in the film.
Top off that visual beauty with dance-inducing, period-appropriate music and you’ve won me over.
The story of Mrs. Henderson Presents is quite good as well, though the visuals are my favorite aspect of the film. The script is funny and charming at times, but it also weaves in the realities of living in a country that is on the brink of war. (Some of that archival footage I mentioned earlier shows London post-blitz.)
There is a very appropriate change of tone a little over half-way through the film, taking things from light and entertaining to a bit more serious as Hitler’s forces invade France and then begin bombing the United Kingdom. One particularly powerful scene has a performance at the Windmill carrying on as bombs are falling above ground.
The performances that bring this story to life are very good. Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins are a delight to watch as a pair, with all of their verbal sparring. I can think of no better actress to fill the shoes of the eccentric Mrs. Henderson than Dame Judi. She embodies the character so well.
Mrs. Henderson Presents was a pleasant surprise. I knew I’d get some enjoyment out of it (I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise!), but I never expected to love it quite as much as I do. This is one that I can add to my list of favorite period films. The score: 5/5