The four dames in question — Joan Plowright, Elaine Atkins, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench — are iconic British actresses, all well into their 80’s, and all formally decorated Dames of the British Empire. This 83 minute film shows them doing nothing more dramatic than visiting at the home of Plowright and her late husband, Laurence Olivier, drinking tea and later champagne while being filmed, and talking. Interspersed are clips from some of their greatest roles, going back 60 or more years.
There’s considerable power in holding the viewer at rapt attention with nothing but talk, which these four longtime friends do with an acerbic abandon. They cover acting, their love lives, the indignities of getting old, physical limitations like Plowright’s blindness, and the awareness that their imposing legacies may soon fade into memory after their deaths. Maggie Smith, who might be best known here for her role in Downton Abbey, is hilarious. Judi Dench is fiery. Adkins and Plowright are thoughtful, gracious. Their careers unfolded before the #MeToo movement; we hear only bits of what it was like working with and for the dominant males of the day. That said, none of these women let any grass grow under their feet. Asked by the producer to talk about what it was like to work with their often famous husbands, Maggie Smith rips back “Which ones?”
The film is not in wide distribution. It’s playing here in Seattle, but at an outlying smaller theater. I rented it on Google Play — not available to buy, only to rent. I have it for 48 hours, and plan to watch it again.
Sunday afternoon here was rainy on and off, perfect for ChromeCasting a film onto my TV and watching with my own cup of tea. Strongly suggest you track Tea with the Dames down and watch it too.