Mrs Henderson Presents
Did I just fart?

Theatrical Release Date: 11/25/2005 (UK), 12/25/2005 (USA)
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins

I once had aspirations of getting to every film that had an Academy Award nomination this year. When the nominations came out, I had already seen the Best Picture nominees and about 75% of the others, not counting short films, documentaries and the foreign language films that haven’t even been released in America yet.

However, I think I’m going to fall short and will just have to learn to live with that disappointment … or more realistically, I’ll just take a deep breath and … yup, there we go. I’m over it now.

But coinciding with my previous goal, some eager co-workers and I ducked into a showing of “Mrs. Henderson Presents” which has been nominated for two Oscars: costume design and lead actress.

The film is “inspired by” a true story of a theatre in WW II London that stayed open even through the Luftwaffe bombings on the city in order to provide troops with a little morale before they were shipped off to war. The story’s hook is that the performances at the theatre include nude women on stage, which in London at the time was a bit of a no-no. As such, the film deals with many themes, personal loss, the effect WWII had on London and art vs. societal norms.

Dame Judi Dench plays Mrs. Henderson and I can’t say I’m shocked she received an Oscar nomination. Her performance in this film is characteristically strong, she displays both comedic and dramatic turns well, but I think if this had been a no-name actress providing the same performance, there would not have been a nomination and I have my own list of top 5 actresses for 2005 anyway. Of course, another actress may not have had the name recognition to get the film made so there’s that too.

The rest of the cast is equally as strong, with previous Academy nominee Bob Hoskins providing both the foil and attraction for Dench’s character. I can’t remember him having a better role in many years, so it’s nice to see he read the script this time before agreeing to star in the film (see “Unleashed”).

All of the supporting roles were wonderful with two key standouts: Kelly Reilly and Christopher Guest. Reilly plays the lead “girl on display”, exuding wit, vulnerability and charm.

While Dench and Hoskins are constantly pushing each other’s buttons, Reilly and the rest of the stage cast go about their business as if Mommy and Daddy are fighting again (but in a playful way, not like an episode of “Cops”). And Guest gives an entertaining and almost scene stealing performance as the Lord Chamberlain who must be convinced to allow the nudity in Mrs. Henderson’s stage shows.

Overall, the film does everything well. While some parts are a bit over-sentimental, they play well and keep this film from being just tongue and cheek and a stiff upper lip. That leads me to the tangent of why all British adjectives are body parts but that’s a discussion for another day.

I think a lot of the credit for the strength of the film must go to the director, Stephen Frears, for finding a way to keep the film from being too maudlin or, conversely, too silly. He toed the line, giving the audience points to relax and enjoy between the more serious events.

A special mention must also go to the music in the film. The stage show was a musical revue and as such, if the music had been awful, the film probably would have followed. All of the songs are done well and help immerse the audience in the times.

I have to admit I was hoping to go into this film and use the cynic inside to tear this effort down. But after actually watching the film, I will admit that “Mrs. Henderson Presents” is a well made film and I’m going to give it a 3 out of 5. It may have rated more but in crafting a workable screenplay from the books and people it took its inspiration from, the effort as a whole was a bit too formulaic and predictable. Still, I had fun and thoroughly enjoyed the film.

If you’re in the mood for a little British humor and a sideways glance at what it was like to be London during WWII, “Mrs. Henderson Presents” fits the bill nicely. (‘Bill’ being like’s a bird’s beak and thus anatomical which related to the British adjective thing … oh, never mind.)