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Streaming: "Tea with the Dames"

The Film Experience is thrilled to welcome back Anne-Marie of "A Year with Kate" and "Judy by the Numbers" fame!

by Anne-Marie

For those actressexuals who feel caught in the doldrums of a late March movie lull, I am pleased to report that Hulu has a brief cure for what ails you. Tea with the Dames (aka There Is Nothing Like A Dame), a delightful bit of fluff that got lost in the midst of last year’s awards season kerfuffle, is a short documentary uniting four of Britain’s living legends--Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, and Dame Joan Plowright--to do what they do best, and apparently do fairly frequently anyway: sit around Dame Plowright’s table, reminisce about their careers and trade bon mots over tea spiked with champagne.

The documentary plays out like a Hollywood Reporter roundtable for octogenarian OBE’s...

After starting with the usual perfunctory “how did you start acting” questions, the dames begin to loosen up, discussing everything from naturalism in acting, to stage fright, to roles they passed over, and even who scared Sir Laurence Olivier the most (it was Maggie Smith).

Augmented by archival footage (including some that the dames are allowed to see and react to themselves), the movie flits from one subject to another, with occasional pauses so one of the dames can reprimand the director for interfering.

The light, conversational nature of the documentary is also its major drawback: with such a short run time and such long careers, the film has very little time to delve into unique choices and challenges of each actress’s career. For those viewers not as familiar with Joan Plowright or Eileen Atkins, this could lead towards confusion, as their unique achievements--Plowright’s long theatrical legacy before and after the National Theatre, and Eileen Atkins’s work in the New Wave--are never discussed. The exception is an early scene during which all four discuss the role of Cleopatra in Shakespeare's tragedy. Only two played Cleopatra, though all four were offered it, and their discussion of their motivations to accept or reject, as well as their dissection of Cleopatra’s role in the theatrical canon, tease at the deep emotion and intelligence all four women bring to their craft.

More typical of the film are several scenes about Sir Laurence Olivier. By virtue of every actress having worked with him (and Plowright having married him), a good half hour of the film focuses on Olivier: how he influenced their careers, what he said about or to them, and anecdotes about his children with Plowright. Dame Plowright, who is now blind, gets the opportunity for some thoughtful comments on career and marriage, but overall the film spends too much time on one incredible man when it could be looking more closely at four legendary women.

Quibbles aside, Tea with the Dames is a delightful way for anglophiles and actressexuals to spend an hour and a half. Even if the film never gets deeper than surface level, it provides just enough to stimulate some curiosity or at least a good rewatch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find my DVD of Tea with Mussolini.

Dame Rating: There truly is nothing like 'em
Movie Rating: B

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Reader Comments (13)

I admit, it didn't go as deep or as introspective as perhaps I would have liked, but each of these women could have a series based on their careers each and it would still not be enough!

I just appreciated the chance to hang out with them, see that they've all still got it (Maggie is such a bitch in the best way) and see Atkins and Plowright get recognised for their lengthy, if not as illustrious, careers!

Happy days! and also just relieved to see Maggie on screen again - it's been three years since Lady in the Van (which should have been nominated for) and I had heard she was ready to retire but apparently not!

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermorganb

Would love to see a series of these films ala the Trip with Brydon and Coogan. Heavenly and hilarious.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermatt

So they talk about acting? I just assumed they would get together and watch videos of Chris Hemsworth interacting with wild animals.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

Would love to watch a version of this with American "dames." Definitley Jane and Cicley, but who else?

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

An American version would have to include Ellen Burstyn, surely. So fabulous and honest.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermorganb

I'm looking forward to seeing this, even though a mere 90 minutes barely scratches the surface.
This quartet has been at the pinnacle of the British theatre, film, and television profession since 1950 onwards. That's a piece of history.
Anne Marie - Great to have you back, if you were left wanting more try reading Judi Dench's autobiography "And Furthermore". If you listen to the audible version it's read by Samantha Bond and is a real gem. The hotel situation while shooting "Tea With Mussolini" is hilarious.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

American Version - Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda, Liza Minelli & Ellen Burstyn (alts - Ann-Margaret & Faye Dunaway)

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEllsworth

I enjoyed spending time with them, but I wish it was a deeper conversation. Hopefully it will become a series of conversations.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Loved it!! Given the title I didn't go into it expecting anything more than a breezy chat since that's what teatime is for. It was an utter delight and I was so pleased to see Joan Plowright looking well. She's obviously adjusted to her blindness but her eyes were always so expressive with a lively twinkle it's sad to them diminished.

I'd love to see a continuation where they could touch on other experiences they've all had.

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

This was an absolute delight but I wanted much more. There were so many things to delve into - their various roles & projects, life in the theater, career longevity, social/political changes in their lifetime, being a woman in entertainment, how they view their art, what sacrifices they made, commentary on other legends they worked with ... this could have been 10 hours longer. But they rarely do interviews so I'll just cherish what we got!

March 20, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJEM

I appreciate the viewpoints of those bemoaning the lack of 'substance' in this documentary. But how lovely it was to forget about important topics and social political structures and literally just have 'Tea with the Dames'. As an exercise in escapism it scores 10/10.

March 21, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

I haven't seen it yet but I'm saving it as comfort food—honestly, there is zero chance I won't love every minute of it so why rush?

You could remake this concept with any four actresses I love and it'd be crack cocaine. Remember when the Hollywood Reporter roundtables were less produced? The one with Nicole, Annette, Natalie and HBC is legendary. Can't believe it's been almost a decade since then.

March 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Saw it. Loved it.

I was glad they showed photos of when they were younger, for the ones I didn’t know so well, like Eileen Atkins.

But considering almost all of them had been told they weren’t good looking enough, when they were clearly gorgeous, made me really wonder what the standards of beauty in England must have been at that time. Weird and narrow, is my guess.

March 21, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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