"You're invited" in Tea With the Dames. This British documentary film directed by Roger Michell. Together, they're 342 years old. They're in their seventh decade of cutting-edge, epoch-defining performances on stage and on screen. Funny, smart, sharp, competitive, tearful, hilarious, savage, clever, caustic, cool, gorgeous, poignant, irreverent, iconic, old, and unbelievably young. Special friends, special women and special dames: a chance to hang out with them all, at the same table, at the same time, and enjoy sparkling and unguarded conversation spliced with a raft of archive. The film stars Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith.
It's enjoyable watching them engage in witty banter but it's also fascinating seeing them talk about their prestigious careers. Have a sip of tea and enjoy! I'm sure I will see better, more elaborately structured and edited documentaries this year than Michell's film, but I doubt any will fill me with as much pure, elated joy. The film also makes points - sometimes subtle, sometimes very frank - about the ways in which women, especially older women, are overlooked and underestimated. No one goes to a movie like this in order to bask in its visual opulence. No, they go to see four legends dish about their professional and personal lives and in that respect, it is undeniably entertaining. The real meat of the film is how respectfully it portrays their insane level of talent and knowledge and how refreshingly realistic it is in how it portrays their advanced age. The premise sounds like a bit of a snore. Four octogenarians get together at a quiet country estate. They have tea in the garden, then go into the house when it starts raining. The end. There's very little action. But there's plenty of drama. This is for you if you enjoy gorgeous homes, crisp accents, and great pashminas during moments where Dench has a reason to call herself a "menopausal dwarf" in the context of being cast to play a legendary beauty. Candid, insightful and unpredictable, Atkins, Dench, Plowright and Smith are not only acting legends but also great friends. And a treat to hang out with. The film peters out as a conversation, given there's no real beginning, middle or end to the film. It's a privilege, however, to have been given a tableside seat to listen to this foursome reminisce and ruminate for an hour and a half. Gathered outdoors in Plowright's garden for a bit of a gossip and a stroll down memory lane, they entertain each other and the crew as well as us, then the rains come, driving them inside for a wee bit more. Here's a good one. We're offered the precious illusion that we're close enough with four pillars of English theatre that they're chatting to us about their memories and feelings; that we get to see them as people and as friends. It's an intimate and unpretentious opportunity to sit down with a quartet of incredible talents outside of standard, static talk show settings.
Simon says Nothing Like a Dame receives:
Also, see my review for My Cousin Rachel.