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Mrs. Henderson Presents - directed by Stephen Frears

Sunday 5 February 2006

Stephen Frears is one of these directors which is absolutely impossible to classify in a genre of any sort. One minute he is working on an adaptation of Hornby’s High Fidelity and the next he is working on a social drama relating to the horrors of being poor and an immigrant in London – in Dirty Pretty Things.

The problem with this is that one doesn’t really know what to expect when one sets out to watch a Frears movie. But a surprise is generally there. Well, with Mrs. Henderson Presents, it is difficult to feel that there was a surprise there at all. We are told that the film is about the true story of Laura Henderson, who set up the first nude theatre in the UK before the Second World War… and that is what you get. With a little romance here and there to spike it all up a bit.

The subject is interesting, that is true. But the way Frears treats it can get rather dull and dreary. A lot of the in-theatre parts are nothing short of falling into the musical comedy genre… And not the best ones at that. However, Mrs. Henderson Presents does allow for Judi Dench to sparkle as usual. Her role as a rich old woman who feels she can do or say anything she pleases seems to please her a great deal. Her acting is very good and helps make the film a little more intriguing as one wanders how she will allow for her character to evolve during hard times and war. Bob Hoskins, who acts as Vivian Van Damme, a Dutch Jew who worked with Mrs. Henderson to make these theatres a reality, is also first-rate… But good actors don’t necessarily make a good film. And the beautiful Kelly Reilly – which you may have seen in Cédric Klapich’s Auberge Espagnole or Poupée Russes – does not save the show.

Neither lascivious nor very exciting, Mrs. Henderson Presents must have been great fun to make… But it is much less so to watch.

Polo

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