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After losing a son in World War I, and becoming a widow in 1937, the wealthy and respectable Mrs. Henderson (Dench) decides that the best way to support soldiers going off to battle is to give them a wartime send-off they'll never forget. Thus, she buys and renovates the Windmill Theatre in London's Soho district, hires Mr. Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) as the impresario of an all-day musical variety show called "Revudeville," and secures permission from the censorious Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest) to include naked women in the stage show--on the condition that the ladies remain still onstage to qualify as "art," like nude portraits in a gallery, with the "foliage" of their "midlands" discreetly obscured. "Revudeville" is an instant hit, British propriety remains tastefully intact, and as The Windmill's fortunes rise, fall, and rise again, Mrs. Henderson Presents develops an emotional depth and good-natured nobility that's perfectly matched to the comedy of tweaking British manners.
Working from an eloquently witty, fact-based screenplay by Martin Sherman, director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) brings out the best in a well-chosen cast, and Andrew Dunn's cinematography (enhanced by judicious use of digital effects to show the London blitz in progress) casts a warm, inviting glow over this winning tale of show-biz tenacity in the best and worst of times. --Jeff Shannon