The latest from director Stephen Frears ("The Grifters", "Dirty Pretty Things") is this enjoyable little comedy/drama starring Judi Dench as Laura Henderson (Judi Dench), a recently widowed aristocrat living in London in the late '30s. She quickly becomes bored of living on her own and decides that it would be best to take up some sort of a hobby to occupy herself. A set of potential choices doesn't qo particularly well, so she eventually comes up with the idea to refurb the old Windmill Theatre. Her first idea is to hire Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to oversee the productions.
The two quickly find that they're a success, but traffic starts to slow down when they find that they're not the only show in town. It's at that point that they must come up with some sort of idea to get their theatre noticed. Sure enough, their first thought is to have nude female dancers. The only problem with that is that Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest) must approve - and he reluctantly does, but with one exception - the women must not move, which qualifies them as "art."
Much of the movie centers around the relationship between Damm and Henderson, which feels like it just may turn romantic (despite all their bickering) until it's revealed that he has a wife. The two eventually put aside their differences for the good of the theatre and for, she believes, the good of the population, many of whom will head off to World War II, which starts in the second half of the story. The theatre remains open throughout the blitz, as Mrs. Henderson continues to put on plays for soldiers going off to war, while memories of her own son, lost in WWI, are still fresh in her mind.
"Mrs. Henderson Presents" does have a lot going for it, especially the witty, stern-yet-warm performance of Judi Dench as Mrs. Henderson. She plays off Hoskins quite well, and does better than the rest of the film around her does at transitioning from comedy to drama. Additionally, supporting performances by Christopher Guest and Kelly Reilly (Reilly plays one of the featured performers in Henderson's show) are quite good. However, the rest of the supporting characters are not developed very much. Technically, the picture looks great, with lovely cinematography, great period costumes, beautiful sets and more.
While "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a likable movie with good performances, I couldn't help but feel that the film does have some issues. The transition from light comedy to drama mid-film is never quite pulled off and seems abrupt. Additionally, while the dramatic side (while not too sentimental, there are some Big Emotional Moments) was satisfactory, some additional depth and detail to the story and characters (as well as some additional conflict) may have made it more engaging and involving - as is, the story feels a little too slight, even though it comes in at under 2 hours.
Overall, the picture's dramatic half doesn't connect quite as well as the lighter first half and the transition between the two halves is not handled well. Still, fans of the actors will find that they provide very fine (if not career best) performances here and do engage, despite the fact that the screenplay is in need of some additional reworking to give the story and characters some additional depth.
VIDEO: "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is offered by Genius Home Entertainment in 1.78:1 anamorphic widesdreen. The presentation quality was not too remarkable, but it remained at least generally pleasant. Sharpness and detail were uneven, as although they seemed standard throughout much of the film, although there were moments that looked noticably a bit softer.
Other issues included the fact that some mild edge enhancement was spotted at times, as were a few slight traces of pixelation. On a positive note, the print used seemed crisp and clean, with no dirt, marks or other wear seen. Colors remained mostly bright and warm, showing no smearing or other problems.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation delivered what one would expect for the first half, as surrounds offered some slight ambience and reforcement of the score. Once the war begins in the second half, the sound mix opens out more, with occasional instances of planes flying over and explosions either nearby or off in the distance. Audio quality remained first-rate, with crisp dialogue, effects and score.
EXTRAS: Director Stephen Frears offers an audio commentary for the film. While Frears does occasionally chat about such topics as locations, story, working with the cast and production issues, it's a rather low-key track that has quite a few spaces of silence.
Aside from the commentary, we get a lengthy "making of" and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Mrs. Henderson Presents" does not transition all that well from comedy into drama and the story feels a bit thin, but the performances are excellent and keep this mostly likable picture involving. The DVD edition provides very good audio quality, fine video quality and a couple of nice supplements. A light recommendation.
The Film B-