Tea with the Dames Review
Tea with the Dames isn’t your ordinary documentary. It’s more like a snarky and sad afternoon tea as four of the greatest British stage and film actresses of our time discuss their long careers in the theater and their most memorable (sometimes iconic) roles. The Dames include Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright (yes, she’s thankfully still around).
Now, I went in with expectations of humor in the best Dowager Countess sort of way. Unsurprisingly, these talented women are darkly funny and comfortable in their conversations with one another. (In fact, I never realized how closely connected these women are as real friends that go back over 50 years.) However, the humor also has an uneasy melancholy between the lines. All four Dames are aging and their awareness as they look back on sad and happy times in their own lives is emotional. You feel their memories, their loss, and their strong friendship between one another as time starts to run out for all of them, their mortality emphasized in a powerful way.
This almost uncomfortable beating clock feels quiet in the long pauses and breaks between conversations. The director wants us to see into their souls as they ponder the near end of their careers and their lives. Perhaps this is a little manipulative on his part, but it does make Tea with the Dames an intriguing film to watch. And it’s certainly celebratory of their lives in a positive way.
Thankfully, the film isn’t all sadness. Indeed, much of the film spends time on fascinating stories from the start of their careers, to their time in the theater. Most memorably, each Dame ponders on their relationships with their famous husbands. For instance, the filmmaker focuses a lot on Joan’s legendary husband, Sir Laurence Olivier. Not only how she fell in love with him but Maggie Smith’s complete fear of Olivier. Apparently, they worked together in several Shakespeare plays. Stories like these are captivating to listen to. What’s so cool about Tea with the Dames is that you really feel like you are a fly on the wall as the women gab about their history. Their stories. And it’s a beautiful way to celebrate their careers as actresses on both the stage and in film.
As the women turn to champagne, their friendships come even more alive. They know each other well even if one has a memory the other forgot. Overall, Tea with the Dames is a poignant look into four amazingly talented British stage and film legends that’s definitely worth a couple hours of your time. Learn about them as real women. See their struggles as character actresses that were never known as the typically “pretty” ones. Instead, they earned their way with talent, talent that gave them careers and roles many of us will always remember.
Where to Watch: You can now rent Tea with the Dames on YouTube, Amazon, and Google Play.
Content Note: While unrated, this would likely be PG-13 for moments of strong language. Judi Dench has about 2 F-bombs as far as I can remember.
What do you think of Tea with the Dames? Do you have a favorite role from one of these British legends? Sound off below…
Photo: IFC Films
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