Tea With the Dames or Nothing Like a Dame has quite the simple premise for a short documentary. It gathers four female acting veterans of the screen and stage. They are Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Maggie Smith. They talk about their craft and its impact. Sometimes director Roger Michell lobs a question at them, and at others, the discussions seem more spontaneous.
Eventually, they touch on topics relating to their experience. They also discuss the roles they can play as eminent British actresses. Michell asks them about playing Cleopatra, which two of the actresses did. We read these plays and these women bring them to life. Although this is not just going to be eighty minutes of these women reciting Shakespeare. Or at least, their generation’s counter-cultural interpretations of his work.
They also discuss Anton Chehkov’s characters and the franchises that they’re part of. Their roles also hint at the codification British and western culture and the inspirational aspects within that codification. Some of these actresses grew up working class, or faced criticisms for not fitting past, antiquated standards of beauty. Despite those criticisms and hurdles, they moved up from playing proto-chavettes to queens.
To add some much needed dynamism to the movie, Michell sometimes pairs the actresses up. They hang out in certain rooms in a house that Dame Plowright once shared with Sir Laurence Olivier. Regardless of these group settings and occasional switches, an ebullient energy comes out of these important women. Another way that Michell switches things up is by reinforcing these women’s counter cultural pasts through glorious archive footage. They were young during Vietnam War and the pacifist push back against that conflict. The footage shows some of them within those protests, bravely facing policemen in those very tense clashes.
The only thing I’ll say about the film is that the popular ones in the group stay that way. We can say the same for the more obscure character actresses here. As much as I love Dame Dench, this would have been a great opportunity to learn about Dame Plowright. But that doc’s one weakness doesn’t overpower its many strengths. Besides, it has Dame Dench, Dame Smith and company telling each other personal stories. They also making each other laugh like good old friends do. Who in their right mind is going to turn down such a wonderful afternoon treat?
- Release Date: 11/30/2018