Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Nudity, gratuitous nudity. But let's not get carried away shall we? Mrs Henderson Presents, based loosely on real events, tells the tale of how an English theatre in London's West End called the Windmill was revived, and showcases the people involved in putting on its productions.

Grand English dame Judi Dench plays Laura Henderson, a rich and recently widowed woman who is at the crossroads of what to do with her twilight years. She decides to buy an old theatre on a whim, and hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it. Despite their differences, they come up with a successful hit, but like all who are the first to market and with weak barriers to entry, their innovative idea of a non-stop revue gets easily copied, and they are faced with the usual slump in their box office.

Mrs Henderson then presents another idea of having nudity on stage, modelled after the French's revue, to bring in the crowds and to stand out amongst their competitors. And here's where the comedy picked up a bit, as audition calls look like American Idol and Are You Hot? combined into one. The banter between Henderson and Lord Chamberlain (chief censor at that time) in order to get his permission for such a live act is memorable, as she "innocently" mouths off words that seem too vulgar for Chamberlain to utter.

What appeals in the movie is how Hoskins and Dench play off their characters against each other. Their dialogue though at times vicious, are always laced with wit, especially in Dench's retorts. Dench puts up an award winning performance as an eccentric lady who spares no effort in showing her emotions when in solitude, although she does throw a childish tantrum or two around. Hoskins too held his own, though the depth that the filmmakers tried to inject into his Jewish Vivian Van Damm character seemed a little too contrived.

The first half of the movie is extremely fun as the cast and crew go about attempting what has never been done before in an English theatre, but midway through the film, the pace gets jarred with the introduction of World War II and Hitler's bombing campaign over London. Subplots get introduced and got rid off faster than you can say "Bomb Raid". You have a quick love affair, and some pondering about the war (with a beautifully light deprived Picadilly Circus, and the raging fire engulfing much of London. But what I felt was a pity of not being played up, was the perceived rivalry between the nude models, and the actual performers who sing and dance. It was suggested at, and then forgotten altogether.

While the movie has its shortcomings, Mrs Henderson's revelation will explain why she did what she did. That scene, though predictable and expected to be coming, actually gave the film a much needed closure after dangerously threading on having the plot being too scattered. The song and dance added flavour to the movie, but I hesitate to brand this movie as an outright musical.

One thing though, I'm quite surprised that the censors here are quite lax with this movie, nary a cut amongst the nudity, not only of the female form (full frontal, and back too), but full frontal male nudity get passed as well, which I thought was R21 territory. Perhaps it's like what the one character in the movie mentioned, so long as the humans do not move, it can be considered art, and not alluring.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. (Sorry, weak attempt in trying to be musical here)

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