Mrs Henderson Presents is very, very British, very, very funny and often borders on greatness as Judi Dench in the title role gives a pitch perfect performance with Bob Hoskins unenviable foil. In essence the movie is a love story with deep pathos underlying the 1940â€™s banter. Dench deserved her fifth Oscar nomination and you deserve to treat yourself to a little brilliance.
Critic Jeff Shannon writes, â€œThe blitz-bombing of London in World War II provides the serious backdrop for the uplifting entertainment of Mrs Henderson Presents. After becoming a widow in 1937, the wealthy and respectable Mrs Henderson (Dench) decides that the best way to support soldiers going off to battle is to give them a wartime send-off theyâ€™ll never forget. She buys and renovates the Windmill Theatre in Londonâ€™s Soho district, hires Mr Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) as the impresario of an all-day musical variety show called â€˜Revudevilleâ€™, and secures permission from the censorious Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) to include naked women in the stage show â€” on the condition that the ladies remain still onstage to qualify as â€˜artâ€™, like nude portraits in a gallery, with the â€˜foliageâ€™ of their â€˜midlandsâ€™ discreetly obscured. â€˜Revudevilleâ€™ is an instant hit, British propriety remains tastefully intact, and as The Windmillâ€™s fortunes rise, fall, and rise again, Mrs Henderson Presents develops an emotional depth and good-natured nobility thatâ€™s perfectly matched to the comedy of tweaking British manners. Working from an eloquently witty, fact-based screenplay by Martin Sherman, director Stephen Frears brings out the best in a well-chosen cast, and Andrew Dunnâ€™s cinematography (enhanced by judicious use of digital effects to show the London blitz in progress) casts a warm, inviting glow over this winning tale of show-biz tenacity in the best and worst of times.â€
Of her evolving into Mrs Henderson, Dench declared, â€œThe thing is that you can only use your own observation for everything, and with that has got to come a technique that you have to know about but then forget about. So you try and become as much of that person as you can, through what you understand about her, and through what you read about her and through what you know about her. The technique, if itâ€™s there, hopefully, will get you through. And your director of course; if you have Steven Frears, then youâ€™re very lucky.â€
Frears himself was ecstatic, â€œIt seems to me miraculous that I still get asked to do things, which actually interest me and stimulate me; it seems to me a sort of quite extraordinary privilege. This film came from nowhere. To be asked to do something as original as this at my age, you canâ€™t ask for more than that.â€
Ethan Alter, Premiere reviewer says, â€œThe film is something of a departure for director Stephen Frears, who rose to prominence directing raw slice-of-life dramas like My Beautiful Laundrette with Roshan Seth. In Henderson, however, he trades in his usual realism for a heightened artificiality. Even when the film leaves the confines of the Windmill Theatre, the Soho-based revue house owned by the titular Mrs Henderson, Frears still appears to be framing the action for a stage. Itâ€™s a slight story to be sure, but the pleasures of Mrs Henderson Presents lie less with the narrative and more with the filmâ€™s tone and the dynamic duo of Dench and Hoskins. The actors make terrific sparring partners. The final scene is lovely, with Dench and Hopkins dancing on the theatre roof against a colourful matte painting of the London skyline. For these two, life is and always will be a show.â€