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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins, R.I.P.

We are by the whole creatures shaped by our culture. Cultural influences are broad, these days, and often all-pervasive. That culture is shaped by all manner of individuals. There are many artists, writers, performers, actors who quit this mortal coil every day, some unsung, others perhaps over-praised, so it’s impossible to do them all justice at their passing.

The eulogies are already in for Bob Hoskins, so I won’t add to them.

Here, I’d like to offer a film review I wrote for a local magazine in 2006. The film is a little gem and earned Hoskins three award nominations. In his career from 1972, he won over a dozen awards; he was one of a kind.

Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
The Windmill Theatre was known for never closing, notably during the Blitz of the Second World War, and for putting on the first performances featuring nudity in British theatre.  This engaging but never prurient film tells us how that came about.

Rich new widow Mrs Henderson (Judi Dench) is urged by her friend Lady Conway (superb Thelma Barlow) to ‘buy things’ to make her widowhood bearable. So Mrs Henderson buys a theatre, the Windmill.  As she has no experience with theatres, she hires the abrasive perfectionist Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins).  The partnership, surprisingly, is a success and when they put on non-stop shows, they do very well indeed. That is, until other theatres copy the idea and then their takings plummet. 

Not willing to be beaten by the competition, Mrs Henderson then suggests they put on nude shows, like the Moulin Rouge.  However, theatres are the province of the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) and he would never countenance nudity on stage. As Lord Cromer is a family friend, Mrs Henderson corners him and gets a grudging agreement that the unclothed ladies would be permissible if they did not move, as if they were works of art in a museum. A tall order and there are several amusing moments over this, not least when Van Damm and everyone else in the theatre is coaxed by the actresses to take off their clothes.  The ‘life tableaux’ actually work, however, drawing the crowds.  Singers and dancers perform in front of the still nude ladies who are artistically lit. Nothing salacious – it’s just the celebration of the female body. 

Will Young is the lead male singer and he was a revelation as an actor too.  We also learn about some of the girls, such as Maureen (Kelly Reilly) who seems ill-fated where romance is concerned. The camaraderie of the time shines through, especially during the air-raids. The Windmill was below street level so served as a shelter.  The performers were brave, carrying on as the building shook to the detonation of nearby bombs. The poignant reason for Mrs Henderson’s insistence about continuing her nude production is revealed in a climactic scene. Dench was nominated for an Oscar. An entertaining light comedy and a great tribute to these true characters of theatre-land.
A companion article/blog about windmills can be found here

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins.



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