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Tea With The Dames - Film Review

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Published June 12th 2018
Never mess with a Dame
I have to admit that throughout Tea With The Dames, I felt both awe and frustration; awe, that we were having a very rare opportunity to see the interaction of four Grande Dames of the theatre; frustration, that not more was made of the opportunity.

Dames Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright looked absolutely in place in an English country garden with a sixteenth-century manor house in the background. And entirely in keeping with the setting, rain temporarily disrupts proceedings which then continue indoors.

The conversation is somewhat inconsequential, and when it flags the few questions interspersed by the off-camera interviewer tend to be Dorothy Dixers. Roger Mitchell, as director and interviewer, seems both out of his league and out of his depth.

One of the strengths of the production is the archive material, showing improbably young and undeniably beautiful actresses in their prime. Who knew that Maggie Smith could carry off a moustache in The Recruiting Officer and that Dench looked unusual but unforgettable in green-face as "Titania" in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Certainly one is conscious of the age of the Dames three are 83 and Plowright is 88, frail and blind but still capable of being formidable. Dench recalls a relatively young paramedic asking her "have we got a carer" and deservedly getting both barrels of an outraged Grande Dame. Maggie Smith asserts that she has never watched Downton Abbey despite having been given the six series boxed set. "I won't last long enough to see the wretched thing, will I?"

A highlight was hearing the Dames discuss the nuts and bolts of acting particularly their discussion of how each of them has to deal with fear every time they perform.

In the end, I very much enjoyed the encounter. But with rather more direction and editing, it could have been even better.

And for online aficionados. who can access BBC iPlayer, you can watch Tea With The Dames online.
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Why? A unique opportunity
Where: Cinemas across Australia
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