Follow TV Tropes


Film / Mrs Henderson Presents

Go To

The show must go on but the clothes must come off.

Mrs Henderson Presents is a 2005 biopic films directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly and Will Young.

The film tells the true story of the Windmill Theatre in London. Eccentric 70-year-old widow and socialite Mrs. Laura Henderson (Dench), buys the theatre and decides to introduce nude shows in it, a move that causes much morality turmoil and Executive Meddling. She finds a loophole in that the nude performers have to remain immobile, so the performances can be considered art, the equivalent of nude works of art in museums. The theatre gains much success, especially when World War II breaks out and London gets bombed during the Blitz. She does this alongside Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins), a veteran theatre manager and Bertie (Young), a singer.

Dame Judi Dench was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars that year, and Sandy Powell likewise for Best Costume Design. In 2015, a musical adaptation premiered on the West End. This one adds in male nudity for the sake of equality.

Mrs Henderson Presents provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The style of singing shown in the film would likely be very hard to hear past the second role in a real theatre (unsupported and un-projected). But film is a different medium to live theatre.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Vivian Van Damme gives a Rousing Speech and Mrs Henderson says "he thinks he's Winston Churchill". Bob Hoskins had played Winston Churchill in the miniseries World War II: When Lions Roared.
    • Vivian compares someone to The Mona Lisa and Maureen tries to correct him that the Mona Lisa wore a dress. He replies "some do, some don't". Bob Hoskins had been nominated for an Oscar for the film Mona Lisa - in which he played the chauffeur to a High-Class Call Girl.
  • Age Lift: Vivian Van Damm was actually younger in real life - only late 40s. The film ages him up to being in his 60s.
  • All Gays Love Theatre: The revue's most prominent male performer is Bertie, who's gay.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Bertie all but states he's gay, but he does seem especially interested in checking out the auditionees' nipples with Mr Van Damm. Given the time period, it's possible he wouldn't even believe bisexuality exists.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Played for Laughs with Mrs Henderson repeatedly asking Van Damm if he's Jewish because of his name. It culminates in her seeing him completely naked during a rehearsal show and remarking "Why Mr Van Damm... You ARE Jewish."
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Laura Henderson's husband died in 1919. She also opened the theatre in 1931 and the nude performances were introduced in 1932. Stephen Frears chose to start the story in 1937 for the sake of a Genre Throwback to late 30s musicals.
    • Lord Cromer is portrayed as Lord Chamberlain for the whole film, presumably for convenience purposes. He was Lord Chamberlain from 1922 to 1937, and had retired before the war.
    • Alec Henderson (Mrs Henderson's deceased son) was born in 1888, but his headstone shows the date being 1894. What's more is his actual headstone doesn't show a birthdate.
  • But Not Too Gay: While possibly justified given the time period, Bertie just implies he's gay with a line of dialogue and never is seen engaging in any relationships or flirtations.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Maureen gives in, goes on a date with one soldier Paul who admires her and sleeps with him. Not only does she get pregnant from that tryst, Paul breaks up with her via "Dear John" Letter (or rather tells her he's getting back with his actual girlfriend, and she's killed in a bombing raid minutes after the reveal.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The film is a light comedy for the first half, but becomes a little more serious once World War II breaks out. And the death of one of the performers.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Henderson, an eccentric old lady who dares going against her times' establishment's pretty rigid morality to revolutionize entertainment.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs Henderson and Van Damm. Maureen to an extent too.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Mrs Henderson delights in making Stiff Upper Lip gentleman uncomfortable by dropping sexual references everywhere.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: This gem from Mrs Henderson to Lord Cromer.
    Mrs Henderson: Tommy, you're so literal. You're thinking bosoms, but I'm thinking breasts.
    Lord Cromer: And what, my dear, is the difference?
    Mrs Henderson: Ah, the difference is in your soul.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Or rather, "Dropped a Bomb on Her", "her" being a pregnant Maureen.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: A playful British soldier who wants to see the girls move has the idea to bring mice into the theatre to scare them. The girls react appropriately, to the audience's amusement.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: The "Goody Goody" performance has a sequence where the performers are decked out in spectacular sequined costumes.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Most of the nude performers are women left unemployed in the Great Depression.
  • Fanservice: The In-Universe gimmick to attract crowds at the Windmill. Mrs Henderson has the idea to emulate the Parisian cabarets Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge, which feature shows with nude girls for decades by the late 1930s.
  • Flipping the Bird: After a bomb lands close to the theatre and knocks all the girls off balance, Maureen defiantly sticks two fingers up to the theatre's ceiling.
  • Freudian Excuse: Mrs Henderson's for keeping the theatre is her son died having likely never seen a naked girl before.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: The singing girls, since the theatre is attended by lots of soldiers from 1940 onwards. Particularly with the song "Babies of the Blitz".
  • Happily Ever Before: The film ends on a light-hearted note a couple of years before Mrs Henderson's death of old age (which is told just as the credits roll).
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Defied. When Mrs Henderson asks Bertie if the girls excite him as a man, he answers that he "has other inclinations".
  • Hopeless Auditionees: Early on, the theatre auditions several Hollywood Tone-Deaf singers. Mrs Henderson takes pity on one and hands her some money to get a good meal. She doesn't get a part though.
  • Hotter and Sexier: In-universe. The Windmill starts off just putting on all day performances, which are initially successful. Then when every other theatre starts copying them, Mrs Henderson proposes the on-stage nudity.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Maggie. She is on top of almost all the happenings at the Windmill. When Mrs Henderson dresses up in a bearsuit to sneak out of the theatre after being caught, Maggie recognizes her immediately. After she gets away, Maggie instantly tells Van Damm "Try the river, it's Tuesday."
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Lady Conway gives Mrs Henderson some advice on sneaking into the theatre, quoting her husband's battle plan for attacking from the rear.
    "Although it did nothing to enhance our marriage, did bring him some success on the field."
  • Loving a Shadow: Maureen discusses this; saying that the men who come to watch them, specifically her admirer Paul, don't know the real her.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: To get the girls comfortable with stripping off, Bertie gets all the men in the room to do so first. After some prodding, Van Damm does so as well. Bob Hoskins does indeed show everything, as does Will Young.
  • Mood Whiplash: Aplenty.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: Firmly in Diegetic. All the songs are in-universe performances at the revue.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: Mrs Henderson notes that when Van Damme and Bertie are auditioning the naked girls, if they want to get a sense of character, they might want to look up at their faces.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mrs Henderson's reaction to Maureen's death.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Defied. Once Maureen finds out she's pregnant, she hands in a resignation notice.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The first time the girls have to take their clothes off, they're reluctant to do so and one of them has a freak-out and runs offstage. After they've gathered their morale, they decided to go ahead but they're still annoyed that there are stagehands, etc. waiting in the wings, until Bertie insists that everyone in the room has to take their clothes off, including the stagehands, and proceeds to do so himself. Vivian holds out but eventually he starts loosening his tie. A few moments later, Mrs Henderson comes in and finds them all completely nude and laughing about it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mrs. Henderson's son died in a gas attack during World War I. Part of her motivations to have nude performances at the Windmill Theatre is that her son died without ever seeing a naked girl for real. He only ever saw one on a French postcard he kept in his room.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • It's quite a shock to the Lord Chamberlain when Mrs Henderson casually says "the pussy" (and she ain't talking about a cat).
    • At the end of her speech in the street, Mrs Henderson closes with "who gives a fiddler's fuck?"
  • Rousing Speech:
    • The Lord Chamberlain tries to give the girls one after the first nude performance, but is too Distracted by the Sexy to properly form his words.
    • Van Damm also gives one of these to the girls once the war begins, prompting Mrs Henderson to whisper to Bertie "He thinks he's bloody Winston Churchill." (Brought up later when Van Damm gives a speech about the theatre closing and she remarks "He's turning into Winston again.")
  • Sex Sells: The Windmill becomes a real success once it introduces the on-stage nudity.
  • Shipper on Deck: Mrs Henderson becomes one for Maureen and Paul. It ends badly.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Mrs Henderson and Van Damm. Even at the end as they dance together.
  • Spit Take: The Lord Chamberlain, after Mrs Henderson answers his question about covering the showgirl's lower areas with "Anyway, we'll have a barber."
  • Team Dad: The girls say that Mr Van Damm is like a father to them, especially when Mrs Henderson tries to fish for dirt on him.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Girl in the Little Green Hat" is seen being rehearsed badly early in the film, but a triumphant version plays over the credits.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Played for Laughs. The Lord Chamberlain refers to the showgirl's lower areas with multiple words, until Mrs Henderson finally clarifies with "Oh! The pussy!", prompting a shocked expression from him.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Being surrounded by these in the opening few minutes causes Mrs Henderson to declare that she's "bored with widowhood".
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: As it turns out Van Damm is married, he and Mrs Henderson become this instead. They happily tell the other how irritating they find them.
    Van Damm: You're a very irritating woman, but I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Lady Conway vanishes about halfway through the film, despite being a close friend to Mrs Henderson, and never reappears.
    • Van Damme's wife appears in approximately one scene and then never appears again, despite causing a small rift between him and Mrs Henderson.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Mrs Henderson gets annoyed at various mourners and well wishers saying she 'lost' her husband.
    "Well I didn't mislay him!"