A look back at Judi Dench’s WW2 movie ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’

Celebrating 15 years since the movie’s release in the US, our guest writer Ann Philippas revisits the wonderful Mrs Henderson Presents

As an autistic individual, I have developed a habit in life of often comparing scenes and characters from films and books to real-life situations and people I meet on a daily basis.

I find that this helps me make sense of my experiences, and consequently have a better understanding of the world.

My way of coping with the pandemic has been to compare it to the Second World War; one of the most effective distractions the British population had to keep its spirits up during the Blitz portrayed itself to me through the 2005 film Mrs Henderson Presents, starring Dame Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, and singer-songwriter Will Young.

Having just lost her husband and already bored stiff, eccentric, upper-class, elderly widow Laura Henderson, played by Judi Dench (Blithe Spirit, Murder on the Orient Express), disregards all the usual hobbies and on a whim decides to buy and renovate the old disused Windmill Theatre in the West End of London instead.  Since she has little to no experience when it comes to show-business, she goes on to hire the gruff but kindly Vivian Van Damm, played by Bob Hoskins (Hook, Who Framed Roger Rabbit ), as theatre manager.

The two immediately develop an often thoroughly amusing and at other times significant love-hate relationship; however, their work partnership initially proves to be a highly successful one as they go on to introduce ‘Revudeville’ to the general public – non-stop musical performances that have never taken place in England before and which go on to rock the West End.

Unfortunately, their triumph is short-lived when all the other theatres begin to copy them, which is when the impulsive Mrs Henderson suddenly hits on an outrageous idea: get rid of the clothes and put naked women onstage instead.


Obliged to obtain permission from the Lord Chamberlain, Mrs Henderson and her at first reluctant old acquaintance, Lord Crompter, eventually reach a compromise: the girls must be tableaux and never move.  Following the nation’s initial stunned reaction at the end of the opening night, the shows go on to be a roaring success.

The cast – a mixture of singers in brilliantly vibrant costumes in front with stationary nudes in the background – go on to endlessly impress their audience with a variety of musical numbers, including the cheeky, toe-tapping Goody Goody, the exuberant Girl in the Little Green Hat and the hauntingly beautiful All the Things You Are.

Mrs Henderson Presents takes us on an unforgettable journey, in which we view a wonderful smoky depiction of London in the 1930s, share secret pangs of the heart, delight in frequent giggles, experience bitter tragedy and loss, are offered a different viewpoint on nature and eventually find out the reason why Mrs Henderson decided to put naked girls onstage in the first place.

The Sails of the Windmill went on turning round for 50 years in total, defying both the German air raids and its own nation’s order of closure due to over-congregating; its underground venue was the safest place for everyone to be from the bombing and it helped London’s citizens “keep their chin up” by promoting hope and happiness during one of the gravest dangers the world has ever faced.

These are the strongest weapons to have to hand during a crisis and it is important to always remember that the smallest things in life – even a little joy and laughter – can prove to be vital.

Mrs Henderson Presents is available on DVD on Amazon.