Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Film Festival, "Mrs. Henderson Presents"

Yes, Milwaukee has an annual Film Festival. This year was the third, and, although the Festival has not attracted any greeat attention to Milwaukee (yet) it has brought us batches of quirky films we'd be unlikely to see elsewhere. One of this year's important films was "Mrs. Henderson Presents," starring Dame Judi Dench, and Bob Hoskins (Hoskins was also a chief producer). Dench plays Mrs. Henderson, a wealthy and bored recent widow who purchases the dilapitated Windmill Theatre in London's West End, refurbishes it, and hires theatre veteran Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) to run it for her. Mrs. Henderson has some progressive ideas about shaking up the London entertainment scene and begins by running her new review "continuous" as Vaudeville and Burlesque houses did in America. ("Continuous" means that the show starts when the theatre opens in early afternoon and runs in repetition until the theatre closes for the night. Which, since Mrs. Henderson was staging a "revue" rather than a vaudeville style variety show, must have been brutal on the company, reflecting how hard up for work many performers were in the late Depression days of 1937-8. In a variety, most of the performers have their one or two acts, and have a break until their "turn" comes round again. In a review/revue, there's one company and many of them, especially the dancers, would be in most of the numbers--.) The idea is a sensation, and is rapidly copied by competitors, which throws Mrs. Henderson's success into the red. Her next innovation is to add "nude girls" as done on stage in Paris. Since in England, all theatrical productions have to be licenced by the Lord Chancellor (as in Shakespeare's day) she has to wangle government approval. She can manage a partial success since she's known the Chancellor (Christopher Guest) since he was a boy. The success is only partial, since he will only allow nudes on stage as long as they don't move--having therefore the artistic qualities of statues or paintings in a museum.

The story goes on to relate the probems inherent in staging nude tableaux, including finding performers who are willing to appear nude, not having done it before. Henderson and Van Damm knock heads in a number of fashions over the course of the story, friction partly brought on by Mrs. Henderson's discovery that age has not yet deadened her to passion. With the advent of war, the Windmill goes from being a scandalous entertainment to a patriotic enterprise, supporting "the boys" morale in a way the governments are usually too stuffy to acknowlege is needed.

This is a beautiful, sweet, sentimental, and mostly funny story, based on true events, and it is a miserable shame that our uptight stupid society will insist on it getting an R rating, which means it will be restricted to art-house release, at least in the US. Of course, the reason is nudity, most of it female, (although there is one brief hilarious scene involving some full-frontal male)and most of it breasts. The film, as Mrs. Henderson promised the Lord Chancellor, is very canny at using lighting and angle to obscure the "female parts." On the other hand, there are a LOT of breasts. I've never been sure if the Joe-Bob Briggs metric on this subject is per actress or per scene, but if it is per scene, then this film must be second only to "Caligula" for number of breasts on screen. That said, all the nudity IS tasteful, and seeing how the producers work a nude tableaux into everything from sweet sappy love songs to patriotic anthems is a hoot and a half.

The script is chiefly a star vehicle for Dench and Hoskins, and they are not in the least upstaged by the youthful pulchritude on display. Dench is particularly fine, including a touching scene in which she strikes poses to her boudoir mirror, imagining herself as a nude artiste. Hoskins as the blustery Van Damm is more one-note, but if this film got into wider distribution, I would say it was Oscar time for both of them. If Dench is not at least nominated, there is no justice.

I recommend the film for all. Of course, children will not be allowed--.

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