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Stephen Frears
Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young, Kelly Reilly, Thelma Barlow, Christopher Guest, Thomas Allen
Writing Credits:
Martin Sherman

Nudity - Variety - High Society.

Widow Laura Henderson (Dench) isn't about to spend her remaining years sitting around the house, so she partners with infamous producer Vivian Van Dam (Hoskins) to buy the Windmill Theater. While the Germans bomb London, Henderson lobbies Lord Cromer (Guest) to allow her actresses to perform nude.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$55.344 thousand on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$10.327 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 4/18/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears
• “The Making of Mrs. Henderson Presents
• Production Photography
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 7, 2006)

On the surface, Mrs. Henderson Presents looked like the perfect date movie for guys looking to have their cake and eat it too. A period comedy, it was a way for males to take their girls to a flick with copious nudity but not look like pigs. While the unsuspecting women admire their men for their willingness to see an art house movie, the males could take in all the naked babes.

Unfortunately, the reality proved less enticing. Henderson indeed includes a fair amount of female nudity, but not enough to redeem the flawed film.

Set in London starting in 1937, Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) becomes a widow when her prominent and wealthy husband dies. This leaves her with lots of money and little to do, so she decides to buy and refurbish a rundown old theater. She hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to manage the place and stages musical theater performances.

Van Damm’s production becomes a smash hit and inspires many imitators – so many, in fact, that the Windmill Theater quickly loses its audience. To stir things up, Laura proposes that they feature nude women in their shows. The authorities reject her idea unless she agrees to take an unusual circumstance: the naked performers must remain stationary.

Unsurprisingly, this makes the theater a hit again, though additional complications ensue. Laura and Vivian go through a moderately contentious relationship that goes south when she learns of his wife. We also get to know nude model Maureen (Kelly Reilly) and see how World War II affects all involved when the Germans start to bomb London.

While I respect the talent of Judi Dench, I can’t say my eyes light up when I see her name on a marquee. Some exceptions exist. She did serve as “M” in a series of Bond flicks, after all, and I really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, in which she played a small role. Nonetheless, I usually figure that a flick with Dench will be some stiff period piece.

The same impression greeted me when I learned of Henderson, but all that potential nudity made it much more enticing. Dench does offer a typically good performance. She shows the arrogance and insolence of the upper crust and doesn’t try to temper this to make us love her, though we care more for her as the character shows other sides and nuances. The rest of the cast seems more than solid as well, especially when Dench and Hoskins match up onscreen. Their scenes fare as many of the flick’s best.

Yet Henderson remains unsatisfying. If you go into like I did and want to check out lots of skin, you’ll get your wish – sort of. We do see a lot of nudity, but most of it comes from a distance and passes by quickly in an arty way. If the naked women are the main attraction for you, I’d recommend you grab a Playboy DVD instead.

Note that Henderson attempts to be an equal opportunity skin flick. When the models initially balk at baring all, they force the men who work on the production to also strip so they can feel more comfortable. This means a few shots of male full-frontal nudity, including the horrific image of a full Monty Hoskins. This forced me to gouge out my eyes, so forgive any typos in this review.

My main problem with Henderson comes from the disjointed telling of its story. The first half offers a fairly light romp and looks like it’ll head down the path of a salty romantic comedy. We think that mismatched Laura and Vivian will slowly fall in love while they produce this odd musical hall piece.

To some degree, that’s what happens, but when we learn of Vivian’s wife, the flick takes a serious turn. Obviously their prospective romance goes out the window, and so does any real coherence to the story. After that the tale flies all over the place and loses direction.

Frankly, it turns into something of a soap opera, especially when our attention turns to Maureen. I won’t dig into the details, but the parts related to the War get pretty soppy and feel disconnected from the prior events. I don’t mind movies that shift gears, but Henderson does so in such an abrupt manner that it blows the clutch.

In no way would I declare Mrs. Henderson Presents to be a bad film. With a strong cast and an interesting concept, it offers decent entertainment at times. However, I also can’t view it as a success. It lacks a coherent narrative and gets too involved in melodrama to really engage the viewer.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Mrs. Henderson Presents appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the flick usually looked fine, it exhibited a few problems.

For the most part, sharpness appeared solid. A bit of edge enhancement resulted in a few slightly soft wide shots, but those didn’t show up frequently. Instead, the movie normally came across as distinctive and crisp. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws remained minor. A few specks popped up, and I did witness a large hair at one point. Otherwise this was a clean print.

Henderson went with a palette that favored natural hues with just a hint of a golden nostalgic flavor. The DVD replicated all the colors well. They looked lively and firm throughout the movie. Blacks were reasonably dense and deep, while shadows usually appeared fine. A few shots seemed a bit dense, but those weren’t big concerns. Overall, this was a more than adequate transfer.

I felt the same way about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mrs. Henderson Presents. Actually, it opened up the mix in a more active way than I expected. I thought this would be nothing more than a quiet, chatty track, but the war-related sequences brought life to the mix. Those presented nice localization of bombs and planes and used the five channels to good effect.

Most of the movie stayed pretty restrained, though. We got gentle ambience and nice stereo imaging for the music. The surrounds usually reinforced these elements but didn’t have a whole lot else to do. This was a consistently good soundfield for a film of this sort.

Audio quality also worked very well. The effects added a lot much punch than I expected. The war-related bits showed very good accuracy and range. They packed a deep wallop when necessary.

Speech was always natural and concise, and I noticed no edginess or other problems. Music seemed lively and bright. The score offered good clarity and was well reproduced. The track wasn’t quite active enough to merit a “B+”, but it satisfied at all times.

When we check out the set’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Stephen Frears. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. Frears talks about the movie’s opening, sets and locations, the cast, the film’s handling of nudity, filming musical numbers, reshoots and editing, influences and history, and cut sequences.

The main problem with the commentary stems from the moderate level of dead air, as Frears lets much of the film pass without speaking. However, when he talks, he usually provides worthwhile material. The director gets into the expected topics and elaborates on them well. Actually, he’s awfully fuzzy on the “electronic” visual effects that seem to mystify him, but otherwise he makes this an informative chat despite the gaps.

The Making of Mrs. Henderson Presents lasts 24 minutes and seven seconds. It features movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We find notes from Frears, actor/executive producer Bob Hoskins, producer Norma Heyman, production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski, hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore, costume designer Sandy Powell, choreographers Eleanor Fazan and Debbie Astell, original Windmill Girls Doris Barry and Linda Carroll, screenwriter Martin Sherman, and actors Judi Dench, Kelly Reilly, Christopher Guest, Camille O’Sullivan, and Will Young.

“Making” looks at the original Windmill Girls and some of the history behind the movie’s inspiration, casting and performances, the movie’s look and design elements, choreography and the musical numbers, script development and shooting the film. This acts as a decent overview of the various areas. Many of them fly by without too much insight, but the examination of design and choreographer works especially well. There’s just enough material to make this a fairly useful piece.

24 pictures appear in the Production Photography section. None seem particularly interesting. The set includes the theatrical trailer for Henderson and a few ads open the DVD. We get promos for The Libertine and Transamerica.

Mrs. Henderson Presents works best as light comedy. That’s what we get in its first half, and those parts entertain. Once matters turn more serious, however, the movie loses its bearings and becomes less interesting. The DVD presents pretty good picture and audio as well as some informative extras. This is a better than average DVD for an erratic movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8571 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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