Tea With the Dames
Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith
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…the film plays out like you’re sitting down for an afternoon cuppa with four of Britain’s most talented actresses, listening to their stories and having a good old cackle, like friends do.
Four women. Four knighthoods. Countless awards. One house. One weekend. What could go wrong?
No, this isn’t Girls’ Trip 2, but Tea With the Dames, a delightful documentary following Dames Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith, four extraordinary actresses and women with a decades-long friendship, as they let the cameras in on a weekend visit to Plowright’s home. They talk, they laugh, they reminisce about their careers onscreen and onstage, they drink tea – though not as much as the title would suggest (we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that more was consumed off-screen) – and from this comes one of the most charming Saturday afternoon docos this year.
Chronicling each actress’ journey from the stage to the screen to the other end of the royal sceptre, the traditional documentary elements of this film are expected yet engaging; the combination of both film and theatre footage of the Dames’ most iconic roles creates a more interesting approach to their careers, drawing attention to differences in their careers but also noting how similar their lives and experiences have been.
Long-time fans of the Dames (especially Dench and Smith) may not find too much new information throughout the tight runtime, but the documentary’s preference to discuss their theatre roles does allow the film to focus on their early years, an era full of Shakespeare, romance, rabble-rousing, and some of their best performances too. But don’t worry, Potter-and-Bond fans, there’s plenty of film history here too, most interestingly as the film discusses the relationship between each of the Dames and Laurence Olivier, Plowright’s second husband.
It is the relationships that are the highlight of the film; their years of friendship shine through as they share jokes and anecdotes, never shying away from touchy subjects – like previous marriages, or Smith’s tumultuous relationship with Olivier. As they wander around the old house together, it’s these stories that stay with you, because the four Dames interact with such heart, personality, and a wicked sense of humour (Smith’s in particular). If you didn’t love all four before you sat down, you will when the lights come up.
Originally titled Nothing Like A Dame, Tea With The Dames is true to its title: the film plays out like you’re sitting down for an afternoon cuppa with four of Britain’s most talented actresses, listening to their stories and having a good old cackle, like friends do.