Opening 22 Jun 2006
English Lady Henderson (Judi Dench) becomes a widow in 1937. She is alone, because, alas, her son has fallen in WW I and is buried in France. She is bored in cultivated society and, fearing that life is over for her, too, moans, “I am a widow.” Her best friend, Lady Conway, replies, “You’re also very rich and one thing cancels out the other.” That little encouragement goes a long way, and Lady Henderson buys the defunct Windmill Theater, hires Vivian van Damm (Bob Hoskins) as theater manager and together they start a non-stop revue with five to six performances a day, “based on something French, but not so coarse, after all, we must have British nipples,” according to van Damm. Public nudity in England was in short supply and their theater is a success, even if the scenes are tableaux because legal restrictions forbid anyone to jiggle on stage.
The film initially moves along on light and, sometimes serious, bantering between Henderson and van Damm, who have a love-hate relationship. I assume that they are actually in love, but can’t show it. There is also a power struggle between the purse strings and the creative genius. Lady Henderson is rather hindered in her disputes by her dog, which she carries constantly, reminiscent of the deceased Rudolf Moshammer and his dog Daisy.
Judi Dench is excellent and the fashions of pre-war London are wonderful, however, there is really only one theme and that goes on much too long, so that in the end, we wish that they would get on with it and either grow up or separate. Not even the bombing of England or a dramatic afterthought ( Henderson plays cupid and a chorus girl becomes pregnant and dies) can wake up the audience in the end. This film is supposedly based on a true story and directed by Stephen Frears. (Becky Tan)