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|Mrs Henderson Presents|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Stephen Frears|
scr Martin Sherman
with Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young, Kelly Reilly, Thelma Barlow, Christopher Guest, Doraly Rosen, Samuel Barnett, Camille O'Sullivan, Matthew Hart, Anna Brewster, Natalia Tena
release UK 25.Nov.05,
05/UK Pathe-BBC 1h43
Never interrupt an argument: Hoskins and Dench
Frears clearly likes to vary his styles, and he's hit upon perhaps his most enjoyably commercial film yet with this 1930s London theatre romp, based on a true story. It's a simple plot, really, but a feisty tone and prickly characters bring it energetically to life.
Laura Henderson (Dench) isn't taking to widowhood very well; needlepoint and charity just aren't her thing, so she buys the derelict Windmill Theatre. Her manager Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) comes up with the idea of running all-day musical revues, which briefly provides an advantage until everyone copies them. So they turn to France for inspiration, putting on a Moulin Rouge-style show with tableau nudity to get around London's harsh censorship laws. And when the Germans start dropping bombs, the Windmill is the only theatre that never closes.
It's a terrific slice of history, and Sherman spices it with layers of character detail--back stories, surprises, barbed interaction and hilariously sharp one-liners, impeccably delivered by Dench. This is the kind of grand dame Oscar bait she can play in her sleep, but she invests enough subtext to keep Laura interesting, and to keep us on our toes. Her chemistry with Hoskins has a terrifically antagonistic Tracy-Hepburn vibe. They never say anything nice to each other, but their affection is palpable. Of the supporting cast, Reilly is the standout as a tableau girl plucked from obscurity and struggling with stardom. And Guest is great fun as the flustered chief censor.
Without much in the way of actual plotting, the filmmakers are free to concentrate on atmosphere. The effects work is superb (that opening shot of Piccadilly Circus is remarkable). And the lively stage productions happily take up quite a bit of screen time (Young commands the screen nicely in these scenes). This gives Frears and Sherman the chance to weave in pointed historical observations. Newsreel footage of Hitler in Paris and the Blitz in England adds both realism and post-7/7 relevance as we see Londoners refusing to succumb to a climate of fear and repression. All of which lends just a touch of meaning to a film that's otherwise pure bliss.
Peter Cheese, Berowra, Australia: "Loved it. Fun. Sexy. Great dialogue. Dench is a toughie, I like her and the add on stories gave it reality." (5.Feb.06)
nora dempsey, isle of wight: "havent seen the film yet, but looking forward to doing so. My dad, Brendan Martin, was a resident tenor at the Windmill for 12 years under the guidance of Mr Van Damm. He joined on a temporary two week contract, but Mr Van Damm obviously liked him and he remained. I used to spend every Sunday at 'the Mill', watching Bruce Forsyth, etc, clean their teeth before going on stage and watching my dad, whose voice was phenomenal. I have a wonderful scrapbook full of Mill memorabilia and remember the costume girls making my ballet and tap dancing costumes which I used to wear with pride." (10.Jan.06)
Mrs Marie Murthwaite, UK: "I havent seen it yet, but I am doing so soon. My father was a resident tenor in the Windmill and i can remember sitting in the back row with my sister when they were doing rehearsals and the girls coming up to us in the breaks with sweets and drinks. Every Christmas we used to go to the Mill and have our lunch and meet so many famous people; alas a lot of them have gone now, but not the memories." (2.Feb.06)
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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