From the start this film is delightful. An opening credit sequence that seems out of Terry Gilliam's Python days. The story takes its first stab at being serious shortly after with the death of Mr. Henderson, but soon enough we see that Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) is far too eccentric and loveable to stay down for long. At the advice of a friend she now has no one to keep her from buying things, so she goes ahead and buys the Windmill Theater (named for the street it's located on). Knowing nothing about it she hires Vivian Van Damme (Bob Hoskins) to run it, and he agrees so long as he has complete control.
That's the plot in a nutshell, at least the beginning of it. The two leads in this film are absolutely perfect. Dench's role allows her much more eccentricities and it can be a bit showy, but whenever it may lose it's charm, she quickly rebounds with either a great comedy act or a moment of unexpected drama. Hoskins on the other hand is nothing less than perfect from start to finish. He goes all out for this role (and believe me he gives ALL of himself). He is something of a straight man here, as most proper men must appear at this time, but damn it if he doesn't have his moments to shine.
What makes the theater memorable, hence the movie about it is in the nudity. It is slightly sensationalized, as it was then, but in all honesty these women don't move and they're more like sculptures. What really made the theater last and the name of one of the books about it is that it never closed. Even during the worst of the Battle of Britain it remained the only theater open. Part of the reason, as is explained, is because the theater is underground making it quite a resourceful bomb shelter, and also home to most of the theater troupe during the heaviest bombing.
Frears, someone I would call an invisible director, handles the film remarkably well. It never lackens in it's pace and maintains a great deal of charm. Most of the actual performers are secondary here, and although a few are more prominently featured, their stories aren't really what makes the film. Granted certain liberties were taken with the story, most notably Mr. Van Damme's behavior to his crew (which wasn't entirely gentlemanly in real life), but it's based on his and his wife's memoirs so you can't blame them.
Grade A -