MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS
Inspired by true events… The year is 1937. Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) is burying her dear departed husband Robert, a leading light of upper-class English society. Laura’s friend, Lady Conway (Thelma Barlow), knows just the thing to relieve the boredom and loneliness of widowhood: a hobby. Laura tries needlepoint and even joins a charity committee to aid unmarried mothers, but she is too restless and nothing seems to engage her. Laura takes her Rolls Royce to Great Windmill Street in Soho, where earlier she had noticed a small, disused cinema for sale. She decides to buy the property and start her own, most extraordinary plan of action. It seems the hobby has found Mrs. Henderson. She hasn’t a clue how to run a theatre, but she finds the man to help her: Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), a charismatic, seasoned pro who is now out of the business. Laura Henderson summons Van Damm and offers him a job, but her audacious remarks prompt him to refuse. She quickly charms him into staying, though, thus beginning their famously explosive love-hate relationship. With his secretary Maggie (Doraly Rosen) in place, Van Damm begins rebuilding the theatre. He agrees to stay only if he can have artistic control, and has an idea: why not offer non-stop vaudeville—a show that runs all day long? It has never been done in England before. Van Damm’s warns her she could lose a hefty sum, which only piques her taste for a gamble. They begin auditions on “Revuedeville” at once. Due to her subsequent behavior, Van Damm bans Laura Henderson from future auditions. The Windmill Theatre’s opening night is a glamorous occasion. Bertie (Will Young) leads the Millerettes and Revuedeville is such a huge hit that the Windmill’s rivals, decide to emulate their success. Inevitably, the Windmill’s sales slow, and Van Damm is terrified that Mrs. Henderson is losing a fortune. Now it’s Laura turn to have an inspired idea – lose the clothes! Have the girls naked, just as they do in Paris at the Moulin Rouge. Van Damm cautions that they will never get her idea past London’s official censor, Lord Cromer, who is notoriously prudish. Laura is an old friend of Lord Cromer and promises to sort it out. Van Damm and Bertie set out to fine “perfect English roses” for their new venture. While driving in the rain, they encounter Maureen (Kelly Reilly) who becomes their first recruit to the Windmill’s tableaux girls. Laura visits Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) to persuade him to allow her girls to perform naked. Her fantastic nude tableaux will be like living art, resembling gorgeous paintings – a concept that finally seduces Lord Cromer to give his grudging approval, but only if the girls don’t move a muscle on stage. Rehearsals begin, but Mrs. Henderson’s interferences now cause Van Damm to banish her from rehearsals. The tableaux girls are a sensation, but war is declared and the blitz has begun. Van Damm tells the company the theatre must go onto a war footing. “But we will never stop performing, we will never close.” Some of them to move into the safety of the underground theatre. After the shows, the girls go off on dates with some of the servicemen who wait for them at the stage door each night. With bombs ever closer, and Great Windmill Street in chaos a closure notice has been served on the Windmill. Mrs. Henderson greets the confusion and stands atop a small box. From there she explains why she bought the theater and makes a passionate plea to keep the Windmill open. As air raid sirens sound, Cromer concedes defeat: the Windmill will stay open. The crowd cheers. Postscript: Laura Henderson died in 1944, a year before the war ended. She left the Windmill Theatre to Vivian Van Damm, her dear friend and sparring partner.
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