Today we go back to 1930s London to discover one of the period’s most scandalous shows with the movie Mrs. Henderson Presents, directed by Stephen Frears in 2005.
Laura Henderson, a cheerful and vibrant lady, is in her mid-70s when she becomes a widow and receives a large inheritance.
Still trying to figure out what to do with the money, she decides to buy a theater in London, the Windmill Theatre, which had just closed. Yet, Laura wishes to reopen it into an innovative entertainment venue.
Not being a woman of show and arts, she relies on the despotic artistic director Vivian Van Damm to run the business.
Their partnership is a constant bickering, but their musicals are immediately successful, becoming a benchmark for innovative and provocative entertainment at the time. However, soon competitors imitate their style and threaten to overtake them.
To make money again, Laura and Vivian decide to be daring and stage a show with naked women.
Despite the censorship being very restrictive about sexual matters, they decide to defy convention and become the first in England to present such a show, gaining much success and appreciation from the public.
The show becomes a veritable phenomenon of custom, and the theater’s popularity grows more and more. Laura and Vivian recruit ordinary girls from towns and countries to find the right girls for the show. Initially shy and hesitant, the girls become ecstatic when they witness admiration and adoration from the audience.
However, the onset of World War II brings many difficulties, and the theater is in danger of closing. The streets are deserted due to the bombing, but Laura and Vivian decide to stay open, offering the people and soldiers some joy in fear of the advance into Europe of Adolf Hitler‘s insane army.
The Beautiful Girls of War
Mrs. Henderson Presents a 2005 movie succeeding in empowering women in a paradoxically sexual way, offering an innovative and provocative perspective on the popular culture of the time. The story of Laura Henderson, played by the great Judi Dench, can passionately captivate the audience, making them laugh and cry along with the characters.
Nostalgia for the 1930s is emphasized by the music and ballads accompanying the play, giving the audience a complete immersion in an era that no longer exists. Martin Sherman‘s script is brilliant and multifaceted, providing all the characters with a coherent and believable development.
However, the movie’s real focus is the ability to counter the fear of war with the culture’s love of art and these women’s handsomeness. The theater becomes a refuge for those seeking a bit of light-heartedness in a time of great difficulties, delivering a positive glimpse of life that engages even the most skeptical characters.
Stephen Frears‘ direction is impeccable, combining his love of theater and cinema in perfect synergy. The director achieves a unique atmosphere, rich in nuance and detail, which transports the audience directly into the heart of events.
Lucia Zucchetti‘s editing maintains a very high pace, giving the movie great energy and dynamism. However, the montage also knows how to slow down the most personal and intimate moments, giving the viewer a complete insight into the characters and their backstories.
Despite the art and free sexuality, in the end, the real protagonists are the soldiers, all those nameless young men going to the front and finding death on the battlefields. They represent the heroism and sacrifice of war, and their figure symbolizes a lost generation, just like Lady Henderson’s lost son.
Where the Magic of Cinema Meets the Stage
Some of cinema’s finest artists could not be absent from a story of art and war.
Judi Dench is simply stunning as Lady Laura Henderson, a charismatic and tenacious though sometimes silly woman since she is unfamiliar with show business.
Despite being a seemingly joyful and smiling figure, she hides an inner pain not everyone can feel. However, consider her witty and sharp character, capable of responding promptly and ironically to anyone who provokes her ire.
From the very first moment, the love/hate relationship between Laura and Vivian Van Damm, played by the wild little Bob Hoskins, is hilarious.
Despite being the de facto theater owner, he treats her with condescension and often reacts with annoyance to her meddling in artistic choices. However, there is a mutual attraction and deep admiration beneath the surface of their professional relationship.
So, to provoke him, she sneaks into the theater, spying on his every move and meeting the girls in the dressing rooms, advising them in their private and professional lives.
Although well-intentioned, this interest will lead to the tragedy of the most beautiful amid the beauties, played by the sexy and innocent country girl Kelly Reilly.
Finally, it is worth noting the annoying Lord Cromer, the Grand Chamberlain played by the amusing Christopher Guest. He personifies the intolerant and stupid censors outraged by women’s naked breasts in a society that has no problem sending so many young men to die in the war.
However, you have to notice how dumb he remains after seeing the dancers on stage!
In summary, Mrs. Henderson Presents is a delightful and provocative 2005 movie with engaging music, unforgettable characters, and a compelling plot. Nothing was left to chance for this experience, from the direction to the perfect acting.