Mrs. Henderson Presents
Stephen Frears is better known for more serious fare than this, such as Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, and My Beautiful Laundrette. This one is light-hearted, and does some things very well, not so well on others. 1938, London, and recently-widowed Mrs Henderson, rich and clueless, is looking for something to do with the rest of her life. She buys a theater, hires Bob Hoskins to manage it, and they decide on an American-style Vaudeville format, continuous shows. The gimmick: female nudity. However, the girls can only be nude if they don’t move. Tableaux are okay, hootchy-kootchy is not. They are a big success. This is the part that works. The tableaux are very nice, the music is wonderful.
Comes the Blitz. The Home Office (or whoever is in charge) wants to shut them down. Too dangerous to stay open with bombs falling. Mrs H argues that the troops, who may never get another chance, need the opportunity to catch a little glimpse of tit. Outcome: they never close. This never quite came off for me. I have absolutely no problem with nudity or even sex onstage, no problem with posing, burlesque, striptease, porn, any of that. But it would be a pretty sad sack of a soldier who couldn’t get laid during his last leave before heading to the front. Believe me, there were prostitutes, sympathetic single girls, and even willing WRENS in London in 1942. There is a curious prudery in never even mentioning this. It’s somehow a throwback to movies actually made in this period, where GIs and stiff-upper-lip British soldiers behaved more like overgrown boys than men. Maybe that was the intent, but it didn’t work for me.