I've never been a gigantic fan of Judi Dench, but I can't say why. Perhaps it is because she is so good that she gets nominated for an Oscar for just about every performance she does. So, I guess, maybe it's more jealousy than anything else, but then that would mean I want to give up my 23-year old male body to become an aging actress. So, maybe it's not that.
Regardless, Dench delivers an excellent performance in "Mrs. Henderson Presents," a movie that is sometimes a comedy, sometimes a drama, and is always set around the time of the London bombings in World War II. The movie itself is quite good, though it suffers from half-comedy, half-drama syndrome, and doesn't necessarily blend the two genres together as well as it could have.
Directed by Stephen Frears ("Dirty Pretty Things" and "High Fidelity"), "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is about an aging widow who decides to put her wealth to use by purchasing and running a theater. She knows nothing about the theater, however, and so hires a man named Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it for her - even though their personalities are at odds the entire time. After initial success, the theater starts to lose a lot of money, so she decides to take her variety shows to the next level - by featuring nudity. All but prohibited by the government, the girls are forced to remain completely still while bare-breasted; otherwise, the theater could get shut down. They face even more daunting prospects when World War II starts, the bombings begin and the government wants to shut them down to avoid "large masses of people congregating in a single place."
Much like "Calendar Girls" in nature only a bit more serious, "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a funny film that relies on its dialogue and characters to get laughs. It's a smart comedy, and the sharp-tongued Dench is perfect for the role. Hoskins also plays a great antithesis to her, and the two square off wonderfully.
The movie does get more serious as it goes along, and while you don't really notice until the movie is over, there isn't much comedy in the second half. There are a few good laughs, but all in all the movie changes gears all of a sudden and it a little less captivating than it started out to be. Still, the entertainment factor never erodes too much, and all in all the film remains solid from beginning to end.
Also, just for your note, while there is plenty of nudity in the film, Judi Dench does not get naked much to my disappointment. At least a frontal nudity shot of Bob Hoskins made up for it...
"Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a funny drama that works well throughout, even though it isn't perfect by any means. Dench turns in another commanding performance, putting her at #286 in that category for her career.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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