If you want to see a lot of nekkid wimmin, Mrs. Henderson Presents is the movie for you, however, if you like a little eroticism with your flesh, you'll do better to see if your video store has Last Tango in Paris.
Mrs. Henderson is based on the real life story of an upper class widow, bored out of her mind by endless rounds of teas and charity meetings, who decides on a whim to buy a run-down theater, the Windmill, in pre-World War II London. She teams with a producer, Vivian (this is a male name) Van Damme, to put on a round-the-clock vaudeville revue. This novel concept works at first, but other theaters soon copy the idea, and The Windmill is in danger of going broke when Mrs. Henderson comes up with the idea of an all-nude revue.
The problem with showing some "good British nipples" as Van Damme puts it, is that Great Britain still censored what was presented in the theater in those days and the Lord Chamberlain was not about to go along with allowing nudity in the theater. He did not reckon, however, with the redoubtable Mrs. Henderson who argued that The National Gallery contained many paintings of nudes. When the Lord Chamberlain responded that those nudes did not move, Mrs. Henderson was quick to spot the loophole, and promised that the Windmill nudes would not move either. So, a compromise was struck in which Mrs. Henderson's revues could have tableaux with nude women who held perfectly motionless poses, a compromise that packed the house with voyeuristic males and saved the Windmill. By the time the war came, and London was being bombed every night in the German Blitzkrieg, keeping the Windmill open for the enjoyment of soldiers was the patriotic thing to do.
Dame Judith Dench plays Mrs. Henderson and I presume does a fine job, although I doubt it is much of a stretch for a member of the British peerage to play an upper class rich woman. Dench gives Mrs. Henderson the right amount of starch and earthiness to make her an appealing character. Christopher Guest is surprisingly good as a befuddled Lord Chamberlain who is no match for the cleverness of Mrs. Henderson.
Some of the dialogue is hilarious, particularly when the Lord Chamberlain is concerned with the problem of the "pudendum," and is assured by Mrs. Henderson, once she figures out what problem he is talking about, that the lighting will be subtle, and, in any event, a barber will be employed. The movie makes several half-hearted attempts at introducing some romantic conflicts, but they are not a big part of the story, which is really just about a remarkable woman and her novel way to combat her boredom.
I enjoyed the movie, although it is no great work of art, and, hopefully, I won't have to argue with my critics about whether it deserved an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was nominated, but lost out to Memoirs of a Geisha for Best Costumes. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars, which makes it an average movie under my rating system. That score may be a little unfair to the movie, but I have already given too many 4s and 5s this year. Standards must be upheld.