Say what you will about feel-good films anchored by feisty old broads, the English have a knack with them and Stephen Frears' fact-based tale of a formidable, aristocratic widow who makes it her mission to put naked girls on the London stage is delightful. 1937: Having just buried her husband of many decades, wealthy Mrs. Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) casts about for ways to spend her time. She finally takes her friend Lady Conway's (Thelma Barlow) advice and decides to enjoy the freedom to shop without spousal reproach. Though Lady Conway meant jewelry and hats, Mrs. Henderson buys the decrepit Windmill Theater in raffish Soho and starts the search for someone to run it. Her solicitor introduces her to Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins), and the two get on like oil and water: Mrs. Henderson is refreshingly frank (her one-line dressing-down of a roomful of society ladies dithering about finding a decorous name for their home for unwed mothers is priceless), and she's uninhibited and impatient with hypocritical proprieties. But she's also, like many women of her class and station, condescending, heedlessly frivolous, more than a little bigoted and oblivious to the realities of life outside her own privileged circle. Her assumption that Van Damm is Jewish, coupled with her airy remark that "one must make do" with the sort of people who work in the theater, gets his hackles up, but they come to a prickly accord. It's Van Damm who devises the novel idea of "revuedeville" — continuous performances of variety acts, from singers and jugglers to dancing girls and comedians. The smashingly successful idea is poached by other theaters, so Mrs. H. comes up with a new twist: pretty girls au naturel. And unlike other theater owners and managers, she has the connections to get such a risque proposition past the Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest), enforcer of good taste in the theater — they've been on a first-name basis just forever. The Windmill is not only in business again, but takes on a patriotic glow by remaining open throughout the war years, even after the German Blitzkrieg has driven other venues to shut their doors. The live nude girls notwithstanding, this is the Dench and Hoskins show, and they both rise to the occasion — bickering, bantering and sniping at each other with genteel glee. And while you may not particularly want to see Bob Hoskins naked, the payoff is Mrs. Henderson's delighted declaration, "So you are Jewish, Mr. Van Damm!"
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Say what you will about feel-good films anchored by feisty old broads, the English have a knack with them and Stephen Frears' fact-based tale of a formidable, aristocratic widow who makes it her mission to put naked girls on the London stage is delightful.… (more)