Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Roger Michell's TEA WITH THE DAMES proves a "must" for fans of four great British actresses

Wild horses couldn't hold back fans of the four great actresses -- Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins -- featured in the new documentary, TEA WITH THE DAMES from viewing this film. All four are indeed Dames (the female equivalent of British knighthood) and their storied careers are covered in some detail and depth in this 81-minute documentary directed by that fine journeyman filmmaker Roger Michell (Notting Hill, The Mother, Le Week-end). The film is non-stop pleasure for fans, of which this quartet has millions.
Mr. Michell, shown at left, makes himself mostly scarce as he records a get-together of the four (this sort of thing happens fairly regularly, we are told, as the women have been fast friends for deacdes now), during which the ladies -- sorry, Dames -- laugh, reminisce, bring each other up to date and finally dare to explore their somewhat limited future possibilities.

Michell and his foursome daren't go too deep. Whenever a sad or distressing subject pops up, there's a pause and we can see that a discordant chord has been struck, of which we may or may not already be aware -- the death of a loved one, a failed relationship -- but this is enough to bring us up short, before we move on to lighter topics.

There's a lovely intimacy to the movie, in which the women, of course, understand that they are being filmed. God knows, they're used to this and so can behave as close to "normal" as the viewer could desire. (That's Smith, above, and Atkins below.)

Ms Plowright (at left, below) has lost her sight (something TrustMovies did not know going into the film) and so proves the saddest of the lot. Not that she herself perhaps feels so sad, but it is she, perforce, who does the least here, and that cannot help but make the viewer sad, given all her fine performances that we remember.

The documentary is shot through with archival photos and snippets of some of the actresses stage, screen and TV work, and this proves an utter delight. Seeing Dench (below) performing as a young woman will make some Americans wish that we'd grown up in Britain, just to have been able to see so much more of her (as well as the others') sterling work.

The in-and-out/past-and-present editing (by Joanna Crickmay and Anthony Wall) is first-rate, and the movie bounces along at a good pace. By the time the women break out the champagne, you'll feel as if you could join right in, so intimate, enjoyable, sometimes even memorable -- that's Smith receiving her "Damehood" from Queen Elizabeth, below -- has been this afternoon "tea."

If America has four comparable actresses with this much exceptional work behind them (and some in front of them, one hopes), particularly in legitimate theater, I can't imagine who they are. Even our Meryl pales in comparison.

From IFC Films and Sundance Selectsthe documentary arrives in New York City this Friday, September 21, at the IFC Center and the Quad Cinema, and then the following Friday, September 28, it hits Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Here in South Florida, it opens Friday, October 5 in Coral Gables at the Bill Cosford Cinema, in Miami Beach at the O Cinema, and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theater. If you're not near these locations, don't despair: The film will hit VOD next Thursday, September 27.

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