Mrs. Henderson Presents

Film

Time Out says


STIFF UPPER LIPS Hoskins and Dench demonstrate some serious British resolve.

Playwright Alan Bennett once remarked that the most obscene thing you could do in Britain was to wear a T-shirt inscribed with the phrase i hate judi dench. The dame of stage and screen has become a beloved figure by cultivating a spiky every-grandmother persona that makes curmudgeonliness seem oh-so-cute, a feat that Stephen Frears's latest film milks at every conceivable opportunity. Dench's widowed Mrs. Henderson impulsively buys a theater in London's West End during the 1930s and lovingly browbeats a seasoned manager (Hoskins) into running it. In order to get the venue into the black, the matron decides that what their show Revuedeville needs is a bevy of nude beauties; cue plenty of wink-wink naughtiness and quaint whimsy, Britannia division, that turns the blitzkrieg into diabetic nostalgia and lets Dench showcase the twinkle in her eyes.

Frears's filmography is all over the map, but the two consistencies in his work are quality storytelling and a sense of cultural curiosity. With this Punch-and-Judi show, however, the director does little more than bank on his star's fire-and-ice exchanges with Hoskins and the novelty of dance-hall musical numbers featuring females au naturel. In between these set pieces, things go from tolerably bad to infinitely worse: Stiff-upper-lip pathos and dramatic pap leave the talented Dench lumbering like a dinosaur in a tar pit, and the whole production eventually goes full frontal into sentimental, syrupy sludge. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)
David Fear

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