Friday, December 16, 2005

Mrs. Henderson Presents - Movie Review (In Search of a Best Actress, Pt.3)

Mrs. Henderson Presents 2005

Recently, our good friend Angelina – no, not that one – was heard to exclaim: “Judi Dench? I’m so sick of her old British ladies.” We had to admit then this was probably not the film for her. For those of you who don’t loathe the old tart, guess what? She’s in fine form, and popping up on the Oscar shortlist buzz. As we have mentioned prior, this slim year has failed to produce either a strong playing field or stand out Best Actress shoe in. Despite the Academy’s adoration of Dame Judi Dench – (Four Oscar nominations, and one statuette for basically farting onscreen in “Shakespeare in Love.”) - we don’t feel that this is her “Driving Miss Daisy” moment. Perhaps later. But not too much later. She’ll be dead soon.

Mrs. Henderson Presents” tells the “inspired by actual events” tale of one filthy rich widow, who after her hubby croaked – finds herself yearning for fun, sex and a good time. What’s not to like? She opts to buy a run down theatre, hires a feisty theatrical manager named Vivian Van Damm, and proceeds to shock the local gentry and delight the WWII soldiers with musical revues that prominently but tastefully feature nudity. This is indeed more like “Riding Miss Daisy.” But in a tasteful way. Now, being that this is set during the London Blitz, we should have expected the drama along with the musical comedy. But we were surprised how effective the maudlin bits were. Well, not so surprised. Besides the stalwart Dame Judi Dench, the film was produced by and co-stars the great Bob Hoskins as the theatrical manager, Vivian Van Damm. Yes, Viv is a man’s name. Those Brits, always trying to be different. (Side note: If we have to explain to one more acquaintance that Evelyn Waugh was a man as well, we’re gonna haul out and punch them in the cunt.)

But back to the flick, the film was written by playwright/scenarist Martin Sherman whose previous WWII era flick, was a skootch darker. Okay. A lot darker. And was helmed by one of our favorite directors, Stephen Frears. Steve, much like our beloved little Taiwanese auteur is seemingly capable of tackling every genre. From his breakthrough work “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Prick Up Your Ears”, to his Oscar nominatedDangerous Liaisons”, he found himself working more in Hollywood, earning a Best Director Oscar nom for his fine work on the modern noir, “The Grifters.” His career has seen its ups and downs, but with his more recent work, the fabulously twisted and dark “Dirty Pretty Things”, he was again in top form. The same could be said for his polished work on “Mrs. Henderson Presents”, where it not so slight a cinematic piffle.

Basically, this is a one woman show. And Dame Judi Dench pulls out all the stops in creating a complex woman, who nearing her seventh decade has decided she should enjoy the remainders of her years in whatever manner she chooses. The grande Dame is having such a good time, we found it infectious. And despite the presence of the twittering “Pop Idol” fagelah, we enjoyed the British dancehall milieu. Tits and all. A polite tip of the bowler goes out to mockumentary genius, Christopher Guest lampooning his own lineage as the incredibly uptight Lord in charge of public decency. Kelly Reilly as the star ecdysiast, is a joy to watch emerge as a vibrant young actress. She is offically forgiven for her over the top villainess in the dour "Pride & Prejudice." And to aged scene stealer Thelma Barlow as the gossipy and tipsy Lady Conway. This is the kind of film that will place a smile on your face, probably earn Dame Judi her fifth Oscar nomination, and then be quickly forgotten. Such is the destiny of light hearted fare. But, hey! You get to watch a great actress strut her stuff, and your straight male friends can look at the fat girls shaking their tits! What’s not to like? Bless you all!

Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Martin Sherman

Judi Dench as Laura Henderson
Bob Hoskins as Vivian Van Damm
Will Young as Bertie
Kelly Reilly as Maureen
Thelma Barlow as Lady Conway
Christopher Guest as Lord Cromer

Cinematography by Andrew Dunn
Film Editing by Lucia Zucchetti
Costume Design by Sandy Powell
Original Music by George Fenton
Production Design by Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski
Art Direction by Joanna Foley, Paul Ghirardani & Tony Woollard
Set Decoration by Claudia Parker & Robert Wischhusen-Hayes