Mrs. Henderson Presents

A bored, rich widow, Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) buys a failed London theater on the eve of World War II. But she soon discovers she has no idea what to do with it. After she hires an experienced producer (Bob Hoskins) the theater is briefly successful running music hall reviews. But soon reality sets in and the competition drives them into the red.

The unconventional Mrs. Henderson decides that the way back to success is to feature nudes in her reviews—unheard of on the London stage in the 1930s. The authorities are not amused, but she convinces them it is all in the service of "art." It doesn't hurt that the government minister in charge of the decision is an old friend, but he has one condition. The nudes will be presented as tableaux' —they must not move! The shows are a sensation, particularly after the war begins and the theater is filled to the rafters with soldiers and sailors on leave.

By turns funny and warm, Mrs. Henderson Presents, directed by Stephen Frears, is a classic example of fact that's stranger than fiction. While dramatic license was likely taken with the details, the story itself is true. There was a real Mrs. Henderson, she did buy a London theater, and she did present nude reviews. The film is consistently entertaining, with an intelligent script and fine performances all around. Judi Dench's Oscar-nomination for her performance in the title role was well-deserved, but the rest of the cast deserves plenty of credit as well.

The film is rated R for obvious reasons, plus some language. There are even a few very quick shots of full frontal male nudity in one of the movies funniest scenes. But none of the nudity here, from either sex, is more erotic than a renaissance statue (though Bob Hoskins in the buff won't remind you of Michelangelo's David).

The video transfer is solid, though not outstanding. It's a little soft throughout. I was never distracted by any other obvious flaws (I saw very few signs of edge enhancement, for example), but that may have been because I was enjoying the film so much that before I was halfway through it I stopped being critical and simply went with the flow. But the film includes many on-stage acts that are so colorful (and not just in flesh tones) that the movie cries out for a high definition transfer. But as an independent production distributed by the Weinstein Company (yes, the former Miramax Weinsteins) it may be a while before we see one.

The audio is also good. But apart from a few aggressive explosions during the German bombing of London, it doesn't make much of an impression either pro or con. It will be more than sufficient for most viewers, and certainly does full justice to the film. But you'll never pull this DVD off the shelf to use for showing off your home theater.

But you might just choose it some evening to show to your movie-loving friends, or even to convince your audio-only friends that there's more to home theater than booms, bangs, and crashes. It's a small treasure.

Video reviewed on a Yamaha DPX-1300 DLP projector, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player set for 1080i upconversion. Audio evaluated via the player's digital output to an Anthem D1 pre-pro, Proceed AMP5 amplifier, and Pioneer EX Series loudspeakers.

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