Movie Review: Mrs. Henderson Presents

I’m on the mend after my second bout of flu this winter.  The flu is tiresome.  Sleeping all day and slurping soup isn’t so bad, except it feels like a waste of time.  I’m past that now, in the middle of the delightful stage where my skin hurts and I don’t have any energy or ability to focus, but I’m also bored and restless. (This post took a long time to write…)   It’s the perfect time to revisit my favorite movies, especially the cheerfully smutty flick Mrs. Henderson Presents.

I really can’t believe I never reviewed this movie!  It’s completely delightful, based on true events at the Windmill Theatre in the 30’s and 40’s.  Mrs. Henderson is an eccentric aristocratic lady (played by Judi Dench) who finds herself lacking direction in life after her husband’s death.  One of her friends suggests that an upside of widowhood is no one can stop you buying things.  Mrs. Henderson takes this to heart and buys a theatre, engaging the managerial services of Mr. Van Dan.  He’s not terribly impressed by her “eccentric lady” act and the interplay between their strong, occasionally clashing characters never fails to amuse me.

At first, the Windmill achieves great success by performing vaudeville-revue style shows back-to-back all day long, which had not been tried in England before.   They called it “Revuedeville.”  All the other theatres in West End quickly copied their formula, and the Windmill fell in popularity.  In a bid to one-up the other theatres, Mrs. Henderson proposes they “lose the clothes.”  The clothes are (of course) a big part of the draw for me in this movie.  I love all the vintage activewear on display in rehearsals and offstage.

But it’s the lack of clothes that eventually sets the shows at the Windmill apart from the other revues on West End.  Of course, nude shows were common on the Continent at the time but it simply wasn’t “done” in England.  Luckily, Mrs. Henderson knows the Lord Chancellor, the man who has authority to allow such shenanigans.  I chuckle every time I see the scene where she persuades the very stuffy old Lord Chancellor to allow her to feature live nudes at the Windmill.  She butters him up with a gourmet picnic lunch in the park, but he’s still squeamish about “the foliage,” “the somewhat sordid topic of the pudendum,” or “the midlands.”  It’s most satisfying to watch His Lordship squirm.

Mrs. Henderson assures him they’ll use subtle lighting and furthermore, a barber.  He agrees, provided the girls stay still, like nudes in art.

It’s not only naked girls, the song and dance scenes set my toes tapping, and I love the very 1930’s set designs based on photos of the actual sets at the Windmill.  Then suddenly, the Blitz comes to London and the girls spend their days working for the war effort and performing at night to keep up morale as their audience morphs from students and civilians to soldiers.  Many of the performers and workers at The Windmill moved into the theatre during the Blitz; because it was below street level and somewhat safe during the bombing.

In fact, The Windmill was very proud of the fact they never closed during the Blitz when all the other theatres closed down.

The cast is eminently watchable, the writing is good, the sets are lavish- and Judi Dench is indisputably the star of Mrs. Henderson Presents.  I love her portrayal of this interesting woman, it’s a fantastic story of an older woman who refuses to surrender her joie de vivre.  This movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea- there’s lots of nudity, but it’s always treated with dignity or humor, never exploitative or salacious.   I’m a fan, very few movies tend to make me laugh outright (especially upon repeat viewings).  I would not call this a serious film, but it’s a very entertaining movie.
Have you seen Mrs. Henderson Presents?

Now if I could just get myself off the couch…


32 comments

  1. Hope you are feeling better and back to your old self soon. I so hate being sick. I have never even heard of this movie, looks very interesting and Judi is always so entertaining. I will look out for it.

    • Thanks, I hope so too. I have a lot of work to do! Doesn’t my silly body know this? Do keep an eye out, a very fun movie… :)

  2. Wow! I just remembered seeing this on a date in 2006 at the cinema in Didsbury (Manchester)!

    The date was incredibly uncomfortable (as some dates are) and I remember wishing I was there with someone else, or on my own, so I could have enjoyed it more, because it ticked a lot of boxes, like it did for you!

    When things quieten down I am going to seek this out to watch again, thanks! :)

  3. I have not seen this movie – yet! And I think Judi Dench is one of the best actresses ever. I’ll have to find this. Thanks for the review!

  4. I’ve never seen or heard of this, but I may have to track it down. I might even be able to convince the Boy to watch this one! lol

    I hope you feel better soon. I was thinking of you yesterday, so I’m glad to see an update, even if it’s that you’re under the weather. :(

    • It’s an easy sell. Just tell him there’s boobies. ;)

      Thanks Heather.. I bounced back really quickly last time I was sick, this is just not the same at all…

  5. I haven’t watched this film for ages. It is delightful, and especially charming for me as I used to work about 100yards from the Windmill Theatre before I moved back to Lancashire. Needless to say these days its considerably less charming!

    Do feel better. This in-between stage of flu is exceptionally miserable as your too well to not want to do anything, and not well enough to actually get on with stuff, which, for me, just equals extreme grumpiness. I’m sure you’re far more gracious than I.

    • Oh cool, you used to work near the windmill. Too bad it’s not so charming these days.

      Oh… I’m plenty grumpy and stroppy about it. But then I don’t have much energy so it passes quickly. ;)

  6. This movie truly is everything you’ve said. I love Judi Dench!! I think she’s amazing in everything and this film was no exception. I’d love to rewatch it now that my interest in film costuming and fashions from the past has increased.

    I hope you’re on the mend, soon! Being sick sucks!

    • It’s a really fun movie… Though I’m not sure there’s much by way of costuming gems. :)

      I’m really, really, really tired of being sick. Every night I go to bed thinking “tomorrow I’ll feel fine” and I just don’t.

  7. Oh you poor thing. I do hope your skin stops hurting soon. I LOVE this movie, have the DVD and watch it fairly often. It’s such a nice mix of all the things one wants to find in a movie. I never researched it however and found the info you linked to fascinating. But how sad it is now a sleazy strip joint. Still, by 1930’s standards it probably would have been considered just as unsavoury then!

    • I knew you would have seen this one. :) I suppose it might have been somewhat unsavory, but they did go to some lengths to keep things on the up and up, and encouraged the girls to keep in contact with their families…

  8. I’ve always meant to see this film but I just never get around to actually going and getting films from the shop, which is plain stupid! I adore Bob Hoskins, I think he is largely ignored and underrated. Did you ever see him in Mona Lisa? Judi Dench is great in most things; she was an obvious choice for this role. I just saw the trailer for the new Bond film this morning and she looks great in that, too. I think I’ll go and rent Mrs Henderson this weekend.

    • I had it lying around for months and months before I watched it the first time, and then didn’t I just kick myself for not watching it sooner? Agreed- Dench is a fantastic actress…

  9. I’ll be hunting this movie in Spanish version, if it exists. Thank you for this wonderful show and let us enjoy your point of view. I hope you get healthy soon, many good wishes to you.

  10. Sorry you’re sick, but thanks for pitching Mrs Henderson Presents! Terrific story and film, and the relationship between Henderson and Van Dan is heartwarming! Oh, to be on the set with Hoskins and Dench!
    Saw it again with a 16-year-old who likes that era’s fashion, before our week in London. Yes, the Windmill’s still there… No, we did not go in.

  11. Hope you feel better soon! Thanks for the film recommendation. I have it queued up for Netflix now. :)

  12. I saw this movie a few years ago, I forgot about it until you mentioned it. I must make an effort to watch it again, might give me some more inspiration! Thanks for the reminder.

  13. I loved this movie. I loved it so much I bought the DVD. I feel anything with Judy Dench in it is worth watching, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.


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