completely naked 20-year-old actresses reciting
speeches from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in a
strip club. Apparently there is an ordinance in
Seminole County Florida that bars public nudity,
unless it is used for artistic purposes. Though the
setting is World War II era London, “Mrs. Henderson
presents…” is a movie that may have created such
ordinances those art patrons who like to debate the
politics of nudity.
Mrs. Henderson (Dame Judi Dench) is a bored widow in
London. After doing the boring routines that all
proper widows must perform (sewing and sitting on the
board of a self righteous charity), Mrs. Henderson decides to
remodel a closed theatre in the West End. Mrs.
Henderson partners with Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins),
an experienced professional theatre manager.
Though the initial vaudeville review is a success, the
numbers dwindle and the Windmill Theatre pf the West
End suffers from poor box office. Mrs. Henderson hits
upon an idea, “Why not have live naked actresses on
stage?” After verbally wrestling a license from an
Old friend, Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest), Mrs.
Henderson presents artistic productions with beautiful
nude actresses standing around like stage scenery.
“Mrs. Henderson presents…” features music that the
World War II Generation will love
and mixed themes about art, politics and war. There
is a light and breezy aire that keeps this movie
moving at a brisk pace. While the film is based on
“inspired true events,” the film does suffer from some
false notes of melodrama. Especially maudlin is the
subplot involving Maureen (Kelly Reilly), a naked
artist who had been burned in the past by love.
This is not to criticize Kelly Reilly’s performance.
With Jane Asher charm, Reilly makes her naked model
stand out among the other naked actresses. Bob Hoskins
has a brief and funny nude scene which sets up funny
cultural gag involving Dame Judi Dench. Hoskins (who
also produced this film) and Dench have a great
chemistry together and they bicker and support each
other through the good times and the bad. With her
energy and humor, it is easy to see why Judi Dench
earned another Oscar nomination for her role as Mrs.
Unlike most of the Oscar nominated contenders, “Mrs.
Henderson presents…” strives and succeeds at
entertaining. The music of Johnny Mercer and Oscar
Hammerstein are given a fresh perspective. The song
“Goodie Goodie” presents a musical montage of
backstage stories that enhanced the storyline. One
great patriotic moment occurs doing a blitzkrieg in
which a naked Maureen breaks character to calm the
audience with her “V for Victory” salute. This moment
suggests a grace under pressure moment not seen in
modern movies as of late.
“Mrs. Henderson presents…” is sweet, romantic, funny
and well done. Given the swill that has been
nominated for the Oscars this year, “Mrs. Henderson”
deserves better treatment that what it has received
from the mainstream media this year.