Four friends gather to talk about their careers, their loves, and their lives. This isn’t an ordinary group of friends but four legendary actresses; Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith, all Dames (It’s the British version of knighthood for women). The women have all been friends for a long time, some more than 60 years They worked together, mostly on stage but in their later years they have been in films together. Filmmaker Roger Michell brings us these four wonderful and delightful women who are so comfortable around each other that as they talk, they often forget that they are being filmed.
Of the four women, Eileen Atkins is probably the least recognizable due to her extensive stage work. Atkins won three Olivier Awards for her theatrical performances, and she is also an Emmy winner. She recently appeared as the Queen Mary in ‘The Crown’ and as Ruth Ellingham in the popular BBC series ‘Doc Martin.’
Joan Plowright was the third wife and widow of Laurence Olivier, Her career spanned over sixty years, which only stopped when she became blind. She won two Golden Globe Awards, has been nominated for an Academy Award, two BAFTA awards, and an Emmy. Plowright, besides having a long and distinguished stage career also had success on both television and film, appearing in ‘Avalon’ (1990), ‘Dennis the Menace’ (1993),’Enchanted April’ l(1993) which she got her Best Actress in a Supporting Role nomination and ‘Tea with Mussolini’ (1999).
Maggie Smith is a six-time Oscar nominee with two wins; Best Supporting Actress for 1978’s ‘California Suite’ and 1970 Best Actress for ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ (1969). She has also won three Golden Globe awards and four Primetime Emmy’s, including her win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama Series for her role in ‘Downton Abby.’ Smith has had a long and successful film career, best known for appearing as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise.
Judi Dench has had an impressive career on both stage, film and television. She is a seven-time Oscar nominee, winning in 1999 as the Queen in ‘Shakespeare in Love.’ One of Britain’s most celebrated stage actress, Dench is also known for the BBC television series ‘A Fine Romance’ and the long-running comedy series ‘As Time Goes By.’ Dench is best known as M in seven James Bond films starting with the 1995 film ‘GoldenEye.’
Make a cup of British tea and sit down to see a witty, and sometimes moving conversation with four women that have done and seen it all in the theatre world. The film does an exceptional job of giving us the background on all four women, how they got their starts and what were their big breaks. Luckily for us, a lot of their stage work was later televised on British TV, so we get to see scenes from many of the stage plays that they talk about. The conversation is lively and at times hilarious, especially the banter between Dench and Smith, who seem incredibly close, constantly laughing throughout the movie. My favorite scene is where the women give Judi Dench a hard time, because she gets offered roles first, and if Dench turns them down, then the other women are offered the role. The women talk about their lives, who they married (Plowright kind of dominates this as she married the most famous and respected actor in the theatre, Olivier), giving us insight to their private lives, with pictures and home movies illustrating their past.
Sometimes the conversations get serious. I was most troubled by the fact that all four women at some point in their careers were told they were not beautiful enough to make it in the business. The fact that all four women had incredible and lasting careers is just how wrong that was. I was also surprised by how much the woman talk of being scared to appear on stage or in a film. Atkins talks about every night on her way to the theatre she would wonder if being hit by a car would be better than having to appear on stage.
‘Tea With the Dames’ also gives us background on the four women, showing interviews that they did throughout their careers. I enjoyed that when telling their stories, the woman would often have to help finish the stories of their friends. Near the end of the film, in a truly magical moment, Plowright recites some lines from a play, and it leaves the three other woman speechless. The film ends scenes of the Dames winning all the awards they got through the years. Like the Dames themselves, it’s quite impressive. You won’t regret spending time, having some tea and maybe some champagne with the Dames.
My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from best to worst:
1). I Would Pay to See it Again
2). Full Price
3). Bargain Matinee
5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again