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Laramie Movie Scope:
Mrs. Henderson Presents

Stiffening British wartime resolve

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 22, 2006 -- In times of economic collapse, or even during a war, theater people are vitally important. Just ask them, they will affirm this. They also tend to disdain certain types of conventional sexual morality. They may not so freely admit this, but it is so, nonetheless. Combine these two virtues together and you've got “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” a story about how the Windmill Theatre saved London from both economic collapse and German air attacks with nothing but fortitude, determination, vaudeville tunes and nude women on stage. It is a story loosely based on true events.

This lightweight drama receives significant ballast from the heavyweight acting talents of Bob Hoskins and Judi Dench, two veteran performers of British stage and screen. Hoskins of “Beyond the Sea” plays a theater manager with the feminine name of Vivian Van Damm. He is hired by theater ower Laura Henderson (Dench, of “Ladies in Lavender”) to run the Windmill Theatre.

Mrs. Henderson buys the theater in 1937 as a sort of hobby after her husband's death. Van Damm comes up with an idea to attract patrons by running continuous vaudeville-type shows all day. It was something that other English theaters hadn't tried. The idea worked, but was soon copied by other London theaters. The theater began to lose business. A new idea was needed to bring in customers. Mrs. Henderson came up with a novel idea, nudes on stage. Van Damm doubted that censors would allow it, but Mrs. Henderson, an old friend of Lord Cromer (played by Christopher Guest of “Best in Show”) talks Cromer into allowing nudes on stage.

Cromer will allow nudes on stage only if they remain motionless, like paintings. Nudes in classy poses are made part of the act. As expected, this makes the Windmill Theatre very popular, especially among the young soldiers. As World War II heats up, the Windmill Theatre continues to operate. Since the stage is underground, it serves as a fallout shelter. It is so popular, however, that authorities threaten to shut it down because of the crowds in the street in front of the theater. This draws a passionate response from Mrs. Henderson, who finally reveals one of the reasons she decided to go into the theater business. Much of the energy of the film revolves around the love-hate relationship between Van Damm and Mrs. Henderson. Both of them are very strong-willed people and both have short tempers, but creative sparks result from their collaborations.

The film works as well as it does because of the chemistry between Hoskins and Dench. There is also a good backstory involving Mrs. Henderson's son. Another subplot involves Mrs. Henderson's meddling in the affairs of one of her theater's performers. The film also gets a lot of mileage out of Mrs. Henderson's plain-spoken way of dealing with London's upper crust and its stuffed-shirted bureaucrats. Still, there is not a lot of substance to the story. This is mainly an excuse for the entertainment industry to toot its own horn, once again. This film rates a C+.

In real life, Mrs. Henderson died in 1944, at the age of 82. In her will, she left the Windmill Theatre to Van Damm, who continued to run the theater until his death in 1960. His daughter, Sheila ran the theater until it closed on Oct. 31, 1964, a victim of more explicit, though less classy adult entertainment businesses, including strip clubs, which had invaded the Soho area of London where the theater stood.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)