Ah, we travel back to 1930s London, where we find Mrs. Laura Henderson (Dame Judi Dench) having troubles adapting to being a widow. Thank heavens the poor dear is a filthy rich woman. It seems the cure to widowhood is an impulsive purchase of a theater. She taps Vivian Van Damn (Bob Hoskins) to be his impresario, although he’s unaware that he also signed up to be her verbal sparring partner. The two of them are equally stubborn, but they make a good team as they plot to make the theater standout.

How? By featuring bare naked ladies (and I don’t mean the band). Yes, jugs and va-jay-jays in full display, enough to excite standing ovation from sitting men. In response to the idea, the reluctant Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest) allows the theatrical exposure in one condition: the women must stay still. If they move, it’s pornography. If they don’t, it can be argued as art like those nude statues in a museum.

“Mrs. Henderson Presents” works best as a good golly entertainment. Dench is funny here. As Henderson, she throws caution to the wind and manipulates her way into getting what she wants. I thought the performance was not quite worthy of an Oscar nomination. Though she was good, Dench’s respectable repute is my explanation for her Best Actress nomination. I thought Joan Allen (“Upside of Anger”) and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Proof”) were more deserving.

Maybe the one who should have gotten a nomination is Bob Hoskins in the supporting role. Hoskins shows his range as he changes from the barking boss in “Unleashed” to a no-nonsense theater manager here. Furthermore, Hoskins proves he is of Dench’s equal. As for the rest of the cast, it’s nice to see and hear singer Will Young as one of the theater performers. The statuesque Kelly Reilly plays one of the visual displays, although it would have been better if she remained still. When the movie explores her character more, the film becomes in trouble. The third act goes through a melodramatic transformation and all that British humor sadly disappears. The filmmakers would have been smart had they ditch the baggage and kept the movie traveling light. That’s my naked truth.

Grade: B+

Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Will Young, Kelly Reilly, Thelma Barlow, and Christopher Guest
Screenplay by
Martin Sherman
Directed by
Stephen Frears
Rated R for nudity and brief language