Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Alternate title: Tea With the Dames
Four of the greatest actors to ever appear on a stage or screen are assembled for what appears to be a day’s worth of conversations in this diverting documentary by Roger Michell. Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith have been friends for decades and gather together on occasion to catch up, this time allowing Michell and his crew to film them and interview them about their lives and careers. They discuss their favourite theatre stories as well as more serious topics, like their feelings on aging or their memories of working with their husbands. All four of them performed at some point with Plowright’s late husband Laurence Olivier, so he, as the venerated god of the twentieth century British theatre, gets a good deal of play in the narrative, while other moments are filled with some rich laughs between pals. It’s likely difficult to get schedules aligned well enough for Michell to have a great deal of time with them, and Plowright’s poor health is no small matter either, but it’s a shame that the director had so little time to spend with these ladies given the richness of their careers. File footage of past performances, particularly a lot of great television broadcasts from the BBC archives, really help a great deal, but the inclusion of a lot of throwaway moments feel like filler; had he filmed for a few weeks and culled the best moments for a feature film, this could have been a robust documentary instead of what feels like a DVD extra feature that will really only please fans. It would have been rewarding to learn more about being a great actress working opposite Olivier instead of just the funny anecdotes we get, while the inclusion of some raw bits is baffling, it feels like Michell wants us to see Smith at her worst when he includes her criticizing a stills photographer for sticking around too long (she’s painted a bit as the killjoy here when really she’s just likey just darkly humorous, there’s a hysterical bit where she talks about never having watched Downton Abbey despite the producers gifting her with a boxed set and feeling like she might not have time before she dies).