| The Red Right Hand
MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS
High Fidelity's director, Stephen Frears, latest outing illustrates the late exploits of a wealthy widow, Laura Henderson [Dench] during the early ears of World War II. To distract her from the boredom that widowhood presents, the loneliness she faces over the loss of both her husband and only son, she sets about bringing back to life a run-down theatre on Windmill Street. Having acquired and gutted the building her friend, Lady Conway [Thelma Barlow] reminds Henderson that she has no idea how to run a theatre and that she would have to employ a manager; enter Vivian Van Damm [Hoskins], a well-spoken, cigar smoking, theatre pro. Van Damm suggests something new to draw the crowds in; Revuedeville - continuous musical revues (as opposed to 1-2 per day, as seen across London at the time). This is an instant success but ticket sales soon plummet as Henderson and Van Damm realise that their idea has been copied across the West End.
In a moment of eccentricity, Mrs. Henderson comes to the conclusion that London needs to be more innovative, like Paris and so suggests that they incorporate nude women into their show. Bearing in mind this is set pre-World War II the idea of public nudity is generally frowned upon; due to Mrs. Henderson's connections and personality she manages to convince the Lord Chamberlain that it's an art form and not simply inappropriate public exhibitionism. He reluctantly agrees to her request on the sole condition that the models stay still upon the stage and that those in charge of lighting take all precautions to ensure all offensive areas of the female form remain unseen. The audition scenes provide moments of hilarity and endearment - and a rather unfortunate all-cast nudity piece that has left me scarred (bloody Hoskins!). Despite controversy, the show opens and is a roaring success; the sets are elaborate, the girls glamorous and the crowds more than pleased with the shows, often singing along.
As shattering an effect on the plot as it was on those living through those times, we see vintage news-reels of Hitler's invasion of France and the devastation of the blitz. This is done via simple cuts yet offers a stark contrast as to what's going on in the outside world (the outside world often being simply down the street). The plot spirals down a darker path, though the humour remains predominant - during one of Van Damm & Henderson's little spats Mrs. Henderson vows never to set foot in the theatre again. Growing increasingly bored of life at home, reading rave reviews about the shows at her theatre (having yet to see them) and missing Mr. Van Damm, Henderson decides to undertake various methods to sneak in to check up on things; the best of which comes during an open audition in which she came dressed as a dancing polar bear.
This is a very sunny-happy Brit flick that will do well with most generations - least of all because of the amount of female exposure - but simply because of the upbeat plot, the delightful acting and chemistry that emanates from the leads, the atmospheric sets and breathtaking costume and design and of course the unrealistic escapism of it all. Even though Dench's character seems a little too modern in her manner at times, Hoskin's 'posh' English accent left something to be desired and the constant on-stage nudity sent the occasional giggle through the crowd, this was indeed a well-done period comedy-drama that should prove highly successful.
25th November 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
I would like to say that I could use any scenes with Dench/Hoskins interaction but that would take credit away from the true heart of the film. During the news-reels we inter-cut between actual footage of Hitler in Paris to the girls on-stage and it shows the viewer exactly why the Windmill Street Theatre stayed open during the blitz.
It has to be Dench. She's more popular than the bloody Queen, at this rate they will invent a device that will make her forever 70-something and introduce her as our new reigning monarch and finest ambassador.
"I take the War more seriously than you could possibly imagine"
In A Few Words:
It's something only the British could have pulled off. Other directors would have focused on the nakedity and not the issues at heart.