Breasts and buns are everywhere in Mrs. Henderson Presents, but despite all the lovely nude female scenery, there's not a titillating moment to be had in this ho-hum comedy plucked from the dregs of the period-piece ghetto.
Directed by Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity), the movie is based on the story of a real nude revue in World War II-era London and its stodgy proprietor, Mrs. Laura Henderson (Judi Dench). No need to get all hot and bothered, though: The gorgeous cast of English roses prances around for most of the film showing plenty of skin, but there's hardly any gyrating, jiggling or shaking of any type of groove thing.
Mrs. Henderson, as everyone calls her, takes on the Windmill Theatre as a hobby after her husband dies. She recruits a crusty old salt of a manager, Vivian (Bob Hoskins), to run the show. When ticket sales dwindle, Mrs. Henderson proclaims, "Let's get rid of their clothes." But to satisfy the conservative powers that be, and to prove that the show is art, not obscenity, the girls aren't allowed to move.
That means there's no razzle-dazzle in England's first sanctioned nude revue, nor is there much in this picture. The musical numbers and there are many mostly have British Pop Idol crooner Will Young belting out popular songs, while the ladies of the chorus sit frozen in ridiculous costumes and impossible poses. It's more painful than funny to watch the showgirls as they try to stand perfectly still for the drooling throngs of boys about to be shipped out.
Probably the most compelling part of the story is the depiction of the fear and resilience of the men and women who put on the Windmill's shows, even as the German bombs get frighteningly closer and more intense. The show-must-go-on theme, however, is hardly strong enough to carry the entire picture.
Dench, who gets handed award statues for just showing up and frowning, is as frigid and excruciating to watch as the Windmill's naked women. She puffs and pouts her way through the film, delivering what is far from her finest comic turn.
Hoskins, usually wonderful, seems to be fumbling through too; when he gets down to his birthday suit, you have to wonder if he shouldn't have exposed himself for a more worthy picture.
There's just no discernible friction and therefore no sparks between Dench and Hoskins, and a little tension would have gone a long way to spice up Mrs. Henderson. Mrs. H's relationship with Vivian, which is central to the story, should have been fraught with love and hate, flirtation and disgust. At the end we should feel they are a team, a force to be reckoned with. Instead, the duo feels underdeveloped and awkward, and never satisfies kind of like watching naked women stand silently behind campy vaudeville numbers.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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