Tea with the Dames takes a privileged look at thespian titansby James Robins
Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read
In Tea with the Dames, a summit of leading ladies Judi, Joan, Maggie and Eileen offers hilarity, history and heart.
This is the simple pleasure of Tea with the Dames (originally aired on BBC2 as Nothing Like a Dame, which is a much better title). The chat is unthemed; it’s more like a catalogue of sketches. They riff with wit and mirth: starting out in theatre; “naturalistic” acting; playing Cleopatra (pronounced “Cleo-par-trarh”, don’t you know); reading critics; being slapped by Laurence Olivier in Othello (“It was the only time I saw stars at the National,” says Smith); raising children, and so on.
Their conversation is intercut with footage from previous interviews, theatre performances, film roles and behind-the-scenes fluff. Together they meander through more than half a century in which they have amassed a collective 200-plus years of acting life and a whole ballroom of glittering honours and awards.
Michell tries to enter their domain and steer the conversation. He gets roundly rebuffed, like a commoner dismissed by a monarch. “What was it like working with your husband?” he asks of Smith. There’s a dense pause. “Which one?” she replies. “Tell us about getting older,” he suggests to Dench. “F--- off,” she says.
Occasionally, you feel as if the esteemed quartet are hinting at or alluding to slightly more painful or troubling subjects. A note of hesitation about Plowright’s marriage to Olivier is played out in a clip of the pair in The Entertainer (1960): a silver fox proposing to a much younger woman. And there’s an acknowledgement, quickly passed over but tinged with bitterness, that they all had to fight for their talents to be seen on account of not being in “the first rank of beauties”.
It’s no more penetrating than that, but brilliantly funny, nonetheless. It feels a privilege to be in such distinguished company.
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the June 16, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
Julien Albe and Matthieu Gosset's new venture Ambler has been a long time coming.Read more
The rape and murder of a young comedian in Melbourne this week sparked outrage - fuelled by police telling women to "stay safe".Read more
If Jacinda Ardern was hoping for an easy slide into maternity leave, her main coalition partner wasn't helping her.Read more
As many as 100,000 New Zealanders, many of them undiagnosed, are afflicted by coeliac disease.Read more
The PM can happily go off on maternity leave knowing there is a cast of colourful and capable people to fill the gap — most notably Winston Peters.Read more