MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS directed by Stephen Frears (UK, 2005)
Until it was yuppified , Soho was a seedy area of Central London with strip clubs, triple X cinemas, ‘adult’ video stores and rooms where you could rent the personal services of young ‘models’ who claimed to be fluent in French or Greek.
The Windmill Theatre was a precursor to the ‘erotic’ entertainment of establishments like Raymond’s Revuebar. It was bought on a whim by Mrs Henderson, a rich widow, in 1930. She paid for it to be refurbished and employed an Englishman of Dutch Jewish origin, Vivian Van Damm , as manager.
When traditional shows failed to pull in the punters Van Damm hit upon the idea of using nude ‘statues’ (tableaux vivants) to win back audiences. This was only allowed by Lord Chamberlain and the board of censors so long as the women remained motionless – ‘if they move it’s rude’ was the rule.
Against a WWII backdrop, Stephen Frears’ drab movie of this story is neither historically illuminating nor sexually stimulating despite a top rate cast with Mrs H and Van Damm played respectively by Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.
Dench could play parts like this in her sleep but it’s asking a bit much for her to carry so much weight in this film. Bob Hoskins is better suited to parts where he is either thuggish, shifty or both. Here, despite his controversial show he is a relatively respectable gentleman with a plummy accent which just sounds wrong coming from him. And the least said about the bland Will Young in a supporting role the better.
Nudity is kept to a bare (gedddit?) minimum. It’s all done in the best possible taste so that apart from fleeting glimpses of breasts and buttocks very little is revealed. Mrs H takes on the role of matchmaker and Maureen (Kelly Reilly) one of the stars of the show gets pregnant after a fling with a young soldier. Given the movie’s lack of raciness you’d be forgiven for believing that this was some kind of immaculate conception.
The ‘no sex please we’re British’ theme would be fine if the script was lively and/or witty but it’s neither. Furthermore, Frears directs in a very unimaginative fashion so that the sets and scenes are more suited to a theatrical production. The spirit of the blitz moment is the movie’s non-orgasmic climax as the theatre vows that ‘the show must go on’ . In spite of the bomb raids the famed stiff upper lips of the English rise to the fore. Chances are you’ll be asleep before you get to this point.