Picks and Pans Review: Mrs. Henderson Presents

updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly

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All hail Dame Judi Dench: May we all be as hardworking and do it with as much panache when we're 71. Her latest, the delectable Mrs. Henderson Presents, lovingly showcases her diamond-bright comic and dramatic talents. It entertainingly tells the true story of Laura Henderson (Dench), a wealthy English society matron who, after her husband died in 1937, bought London's Windmill Theatre. Teaming up with veteran theatrical manager Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins, who's gruff perfection), she soon put on revues featuring naked women. Henderson skirted decency laws by having statuesque beauties remain still onstage, advertising the shows as tableaus. Once World War II started, servicemen packed the theater night and day.

Written by Martin Sherman (Bent) and adroitly directed by Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things), Mrs. Henderson is just plain fun. The film boasts its share of poignant moments and touching ones, but mostly it is a breezy, loving portrait of a dotty British eccentric. Dench, whether shuffling through a soft-shoe number while dressed as a polar bear or making a rousing patriotic speech, is sheer bliss. (R)


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