Produced by Working Title, makers of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells” looks, feels and sounds like an English indie you’d be more likely to see on the Sundance Channel than HBO. Filled with a sense of nostalgia and laced with period tunes, pic stars the always feisty Judi Dench as a widow looking back on her wartime youth in an all-girl swing band. But despite delightful performances from a star-studded cast, the film’s thoroughly predictable storyline and low-key charm are ultimately more a sedative than a tonic.
After her husband dies, Elizabeth (Dench) ponders her life anew, and comes to believe that her happiest days were during the uncertainties of WWII, when she played saxophone with the Blonde Bombshells. To the horror of her grown children, she unpacks her sax and teams up with a street performer in a London plaza. Her past, pictured here in flashbacks, rises up when she’s approached by charming rascal Patrick (Ian Holm), who used to dress in drag to play drums for the Bombshells in order to avoid going to war — and also in order to seduce its members one by one.
At the urging of granddaughter Joanna (a precocious Millie Findlay), Elizabeth decides to reunite the band, and she and Patrick seek out the still-living musicians, whose fates have been diverse since the war.
Bringing them together is not an easy task. Annie (June Whitfield) has devoted her trombone-playing to Jesus in the Salvation Army; Betty (Joan Sims) and Gwen (Cleo Laine) still perform, but have recovered from bad marriages — both to Patrick; Evelyn (Billie Whitelaw) is in jail; Dinah (Olympia Dukakis) remains perpetually boozed up in her rich late husband’s Scottish castle; and Madeline (Leslie Caron) is almost impossible to find.As they seek out the others one by one, Elizabeth and Patrick engage in an ongoing, and refreshingly adolescent, flirtation. Dench and Holm are perfect together, and Elizabeth’s attraction to the irrepressibly untrustworthy Patrick remains sweetly engaging.
Unfortunately, Alan Plater’s screenplay is pretty thin, leading inevitably — with only the most transparent twists and turns — to the Bombshells’ performance at Joanna’s school dance, and director Gillies Mackinnon (“Hideous Kinky”) can’t manage to make the finish as feel-good as it needs to be; despite the fact that we care about Elizabeth, the stakes are just too small here to become involving.
The soundtrack’s nice, Richard Greatrex’s cinematography is nice and the acting is quite nice. But taken together, these niceties wind up as members of the bland.