In the 1930s, a wealthy widow (Dench) buys a run-down London theatre and opens her own risqué revue show, with the help of a talented manager. But when World War II breaks out, the theatre comes under threat.
Judi Dench has cultivated a certain type of character over the last few years — the grande dame with an edge of daring. This patented mix of imperious dignity and girlish whimsy serves her well as Mrs. Henderson, the society widow-turned-vaudeville theatre owner and founder of London’s first nude revue.
The character is potentially a fascinating one, but the story around her doesn’t allow Dench to completely stretch her wings. Her relationship with theatre manager Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) is well written, but their interplay feels a little too artful to be heartfelt and is sometimes lost amid a welter of subplots. Chief among those is the story of their leading (naked) lady, Maureen (Kelly Reilly), who steals every scene she’s in.
Reilly gets less screen time than she deserves, instead giving way to brief appearances by Will Young (in a glorified cameo) and Bob Hoskins’ willy. Yet the intriguing subject matter and good performances mean it’s still a diverting look at a time when Soho nude shows were still, basically, good, clean fun.
While the film never quite finds its focus, the qualitys all there in cast, production values and direction and its another awards-baiting performance from Dame Judi.