Directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Martin Sherman, Mrs. Henderson Presents is an unabashedly old-fashioned star vehicle for Judi Dench, even if in a role made to order for Maggie Smith. Once I got past the fact that I was watching Dame Judi instead of Dame Maggie, Mrs. Henderson Presents actually became enjoyable in a fluffy, fluttery kind of way.
As the Mrs. of the title, Dench is an eccentric, self-centered rich widow who decides she wants to renovate London’s decrepit Windmill Theatre, turning it into an art nude revue during World War II. Bob Hoskins plays the theater’s director and Mrs. Henderson’s ambivalent antagonist. Although Dench and Hoskins don’t have quite the same chemistry as, say, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, the two play off of each other with ease.
True enough, Mrs. Henderson Presents is no masterpiece and its charms feel more than a little coy at times, but overall the film is a pleasant bit of risqué nostalgia. It’s also infinitely more diverting than the dreary 1945 Rita Hayworth vehicle Tonight and Every Night, which is set in a fictional – and more prudish – version of the Windmill.
MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (2005). Direction: Stephen Frears. Cast: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly, Christopher Guest, Will Young. Scr.: Martin Sherman.