Dench’s wealthy Mrs. Henderson is widowed in 1937 London when the choices for widowhood were charity work, traveling, and embroidery. But Henderson is a feisty, independent soul, with a greater spirit of adventure. She buys and renovates an old theater, renames it the Windmill, and hires one Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to manage it for her. He insists on total artistic control; she likes his gumption–a team is created.
Instead of the standard two shows a day of the time, they innovate with nonstop review performances, giving the Windmill a competitive edge. But when the competition catches up and business falls off, Henderson comes up with the idea of a nude review, which she gets approved by the Lord Chamberlain by having the nudes remain still–the classic tableaux vivants.
While providing a fine characterization for Henderson and occasionally witty dialogue, none of the opportunities for a more involving scenario are realized in the screenplay by Martin Sherman (The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, Callas Forever). Van Damm never becomes a strong enough character for an interesting conflict. Henderson keeps the theater open right through the blitz, catering to the military boys as though she were performing an act of charity. Her memories of her own son, lost in World War I, make for an unconvincing secret and somewhat thin motivation.
Production values are generally high, especially in the costuming by Sandy Powell. Overall, Mrs. Henderson Presents seems like an opportunity missed for an entertainment of more substance, but Frears keeps it light and Dench keeps it afloat for a charming and stylish, if essentially forgettable excursion into British nostalgia..