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MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS

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Reputedly inspired by true events, Stephen Frears' dramedy finds a wealthy London widow, Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench), managing a musical hall with the raffish theater pro Mr. Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) during World War II. To keep the seats full, even as bombs rain down, the venue offers live nude girls. The two old hands in the leads easily stroll through this outing, albeit in single-note roles, and the film is buoyed by gorgeous period costumes (war shortages don't seem to affect the wealthy) and kicky musical set pieces. The film hopes to win our hearts with hackneyed plot points (a unimaginably convenient bombing) and a great heaping dose of stiff-upper-lip wartime maudlin ("do it for the lads"). But Frears can't find the right line between comedy and bathos. Given his able cast, I wished he had scuttled the amateurish "war is hell" scenes and instead delivered a bitchy backstage comedy. Supposedly, we're at war too, and thus could use top-notch light entertainment. Manor (AH)

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