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by suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & Mrs. Henderson Presents & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen upper-crust Englishwoman Laura Henderson buries her husband in 1937, she moans, "What on earth am I supposed to do now?" Needlepoint and charity work are dull: "I'd rather drink ink," she says. Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) hits upon the obvious antidote to widowhood -- resuscitating the shuttered Windmill Theater in London's West End and presenting musical revues to the cheering masses. She hires theater manager Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run it, despite their clash at first meeting.


After the first blush of success, the onslaught of imitators kills the theater's profits. Van Damm thinks the end is near, but Mrs. Henderson blasts him for lacking courage and insists, "It will all come right in the end." The fix is simple: The clothes must come off, she says. She persuades the Lord Chamberlain (Christopher Guest), the official censor, that the girls, though nude, will be presenting artistic tableaux. But what about "the foliage?" presses the Lord Chamberlain. Careful lighting will obscure anything objectionable, she assures him, adding cheerily, "Besides, we'll have a barber." War comes and droves of young soldiers and sailors seek out a bit of gaiety and bare flesh before they ship out. The Windmill triumphs -- even after being bombed, they come back and are able to boast throughout the Blitz: "We never closed."


In director Stephen Frears' vision of World War II England, little of the grimness and grief of that era intrudes. This England is perennially in soft focus and attractively lit. Though inspired by real events and people, Frears says, "I wanted the film to take place in the sort of world where musicals take place, which of course is in complete contradiction to real life." Dench and Hoskins play well off each other and are the real reasons to see this little film.


DVD extras are nearly as skimpy as the Windmill girls' costumes but include audio commentary by Frears, a making-of featurette, production photos and a theatrical trailer. The most charming segment is the pre-production party celebrating the real Windmill girls, now in their 80s and 90s. To a woman, they insist that the Windmill during the war was one big family. And they never closed. (Rated R)

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