TEA WITH THE DAMES (2018)
Featuring Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Joan Plowright and Dame Eileen Atkins.
Directed by Roger Michell.
Distributed by IFC Films. 83 minutes. Not Rated.
For the nostalgic, Tea with the Dames seems like a fabulous premise for a documentary – four friends, all with the British Honor of Dame, gather together every now and again to reminisce. There is always an air of not only history, but mystery, when you consider gathering a collective of people with shared experiences. And these women are part of the British theater and film elite: Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, and Dame Joan Plowright.
I’ve been privy to similar projects, where the goal has been to capture stories and experiences; an oral history while the participants are still willing and able to share with the world. Tea with the Dames is a particularly interesting premise because these four women already regularly schedule this get together. So, in theory, this promised to be an organic view of what four friends do and say when they get together, made even more potentially juicy as they have lived lives that would be considered wealthy and exciting as part of the British theater/arts crowd.
Unfortunately, the fly on the wall experience quickly becomes more of a photo shoot and interview session with the four Dames. Yes, the photos are stunning and lovely, often capturing the spirit and laughter of four friends who have known each other for a long time. And yes, some of the interview questions lead to fun stories and witty responses – for example: “What was it like working with your husbands?” to which the delayed response from Dame Maggie Smith was “I’m trying to think of which one…” or the very appropriate blow off to the inappropriate interview question about aging.
The film shows some lovely footage of the actresses in their most iconic roles, aside acting greats like Dame Plowright’s late husband, Sir Lawrence Olivier. But overall, the film falls short of story and direction, becoming, well, rather boring. Honestly, I think Tea with the Dames suffers from false billing because I feel like the four women, if left to their own devices, would have been far more interesting. And had the champagne come out a little earlier in the filming, we would have been given a far better show.
While the film’s trailer is charming and captures some of the very best moments of Tea with the Dames, the actual film captures a lot of mid-sentence conversations and inside jokes that I missed or missed parts of and found myself having to go back to try to relisten.
Tea with the Dames is at its best when the seasoned actresses get a little vulnerable talking about ongoing stage fright, the secret wish to be hit by a car before every performance instead of going on stage. You catch the whiff of the good stuff as they talk about the perks of not being traditionally beautiful, but rather charming and sexy, and the brush off statement “we didn’t need the 60’s to act out.” I feel certain that the joking competitiveness of Smith, Atkins, and Plowright talking about Dench getting all the best roles gets a lot better once the camera goes off and they plot how they will steal the crown from her head.
But maybe all of that is projection. Maybe the best part of this film is how really normal they all seem, considering their (theatrical) Royal lineage. If you like the trailer, consider this film, but maybe spike your tea before you enter.
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 28, 2018.