Judi Dench is the Mrs. Henderson of the title. Newly widowed in 1937, she decides to put her considerable fortune into owning a theatre. She buys a dilapidated building, has it redone, and hires Bob Hoskins to run it. He is just as headstrong as she is, but their memorable clashes work out to the benefit of their musical revue. When the box office begins to flag, Dench suggests having naked women on stage. A phenomenon is born, one that will not close even during the worst of the Blitz.
Dench is as formidable as ever, but here she also gets to be goofy in a way one rarely sees (there’s one make-up and costume scene in particular that is priceless). Hoskins poshes up his accent, and assumes an endearing dignity. The film is very smart and very funny, but isn’t afraid to deal with very real loss and pain. An absolute pleasure.
The score is completely enveloping, but during the opening credits it is rather rear-heavy, almost to the point of drowning out the front. Post-credits, the music calms down, and though it remains a notable surround presence, it never threatens to drown out the dialogue. The environmental effects are generally low key, but delicately handled and very nicely placed. The dialogue itself is crystal clear and never distorts, now matter how much Hoskins storms.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is very warm. The colours are strong and rich, and the blacks and flesh tones are excellent too. There is no grain or problematic edge enhancement. The image itself is, overall, quite sharp. It is a bit soft in some shots, but this looks more like a deliberate cinematographic choice (there is a charmingly old-school artificiality to some of the exteriors, particularly when Dench is watching the bombing of London from the roof) than a transfer error.
Director Stephen Frears is a rather dryly droll guide on his commentary, but he is also a bit clipped and there are some rather long pauses at times. Five short making-of featurettes can be played as one feature, and they aren’t bad. The most interesting of the bunch features some of the women who were the actual performers at the Windmill theatre. The theatrical trailer and a gallery of production photography round out the extras. The menu has a (witty) animated and scored intro, main screen and transitions. The secondary screens are scored.
A delight from start to finish, with two great actors clearly having a blast bouncing off each other.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Making-of Featurettes
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer