Tea With The Dames

14 Nov

Tea With The Dames—directed by Roger Mitchell. BioDoc. 1 hour 24 minutes Color 2018.
The Story: Four senior leading ladies of the British stage gather in the home of one of them in the garden on a sunny day and in the house on a rainy and gab about their love lives, theatre lives, and lives.
And they never drink tea.

They begin with lemonade, for their chat is tart. One of them, Maggie Smith, has wit. Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright each have a good sense of humor, all willing to laugh at the situations of age, acting, fame, and the personalities they’ve come across in their award-laden lives.

Film clips of them show them as young women starting out in the ‘50s. How young and fresh and pretty they were! And one looks at them now, to observe that all of them have lost their lips. Age seres lips. But once they were kissable. And they still are, but not in the same way.

We see snatches of performances, some are laughed at by the star under observation, but it is astonishing to see how bold they were when they started out, and to realize that their boldness increased with time. In her twenties, Judi Dench is luminous and eager in The Cherry Orchard with Ashcroft and Gielgud, and we see glimpses of her as Juliet, and hear of her terrible reviews.

How did Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith start? We hear the strictly constricted encouragement they were given at the outset. And none of them were considered conventionally beautiful. Though on the stage, each of them behaved as though they were. And each of them feared the theatre every night. Why didn’t Eileen Atkins play Cleopatra when she was offered it so often? What happened when the others did play it. “I was frightened of it,” said Maggie Smith. “That’s why I only played it in Canada.”

Joan Plowright is now blind, which may be why it is in her home the filming takes place. Each of the actors performed with Olivier and we see them do it. And we hear good old stories about that famed tiger—and others. About all this and themselves, the four dames are hilarious. Highly competitive in their day, but chums, they regale us with their gossip, their lack of solemnity, their life wisdom.

Tea with them is delicious. They never drink tea. They end with champagne.

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