Who doesn’t love a good team-up? That wouldn’t-it-be-cool factor draws you to see a movie, just because the filmmaker brought together an awesome cast. While Heat was a good movie, the film’s juice came from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together in a single scene. Pretty cool. Now let’s replace De Niro and Pacino with four distinguished British actors.
Once a year, four matriarchs of British acting come together for an afternoon to rekindle their friendship and have a cup of tea. In Tea with the Dames, director Roger Michell convinces Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Maggie Smith to let him film their conversation and stretch the afternoon into a full weekend.
I’ll just say it. I found the conversation in Tea with the Dames absolutely fascinating and delightful. Can you tell I’m gushing? It’s clear that all four women are close friends. Not only are they familiar with one another’s IMDB page, but they served as soldiers together in the trenches of British theater and film and fellow soldiers in life itself. As friends, they are free to poke fun at one another, elaborate on each others’ stories, and dare to ask tough questions about their individual career choices and personal lives.
“…they are free to poke fun at one another, elaborate on each others’ stories, and dare to ask tough questions…”
Supported by a plethora of archival photographs, the Dames go through a wide range of topics. Their life’s goal at an early age was simple—become stage actors. Eileen Atkins was the first, as a child star, going straight into the theater when a gypsy told her she could dance. Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith both studied under Sir Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre. Plowright would eventually marry Olivier. Judi Dench was the sharp tongue member of the quartet taking more hard-edged roles in British film.
The conversation bounces between each actress chronically each one’s career in theater and film along with the highs and lows of their personal lives. All were in marriages that succeeded and failed. Each one at some point had to awkwardly work with her famous husbands. Each one had to work harder and stand up for themselves in a male-dominated environment.
”…Dench tells a biting story of being ignored and treated like a feeble ghost…”
Then there’s the subject of growing old. One-by-one each opines about the dwindling number of roles and offers they receive each year. Judi Dench tells a biting story of being ignored and treated like a feeble ghost during an exam. Even these legends are overlooked and disrespected in public.
Watching Tea with the Dames is like sitting in the living room as a child listening to the grown-ups talk. The serious actors will find a whole new respect for these women and their individual contributions to film and theater, who fought through way through a system made for men and blazed a path for those who followed. And fans of one or all the dames will see the object of their fandom be real, open, and honest.
Tea with the Dames (2018) Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith. Tea with the Dames screened at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars