Four legendary British actresses from stage and screen, all of which have been given an honorary Dame status, have been friends for over 50 years. Apparently Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright all keep in touch by spending weekends together reminiscing in a country getaway one of them owns, and allowed a film crew to intrude on one of these sessions for the documentary, Tea with the Dames. The title was originally Nothing Like a Dame, which can still be seen several times in the film itself, as the production becomes a part of the film. The change wasn’t made because the beverage they drink (they have champagne, but no tea), but because of the direction of the conversation, which contains some gossip from their classic days of stage and screen.
The film begins with a photo shoot, and the four stars are almost immediately irritated with the fuss from the production. For some of them, this irritation only increases throughout the process. It hardly feels like a natural depiction of what their typical reunion must be, as they themselves occasionally comment upon. At one point, while being posed for discussion on couches, Judi Dench turns to Maggie Smith to ask if they had ever sat that way before. Part of the appeal for director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) seems to be catching the regal actresses in minor diva moments between the obviously staged conversations. The camera always seems to be rolling, and there are obvious manipulations made by the production. Some is as simple as introducing archival footage to inspire reminiscence, though other times questions are raised in the hopes of getting an extreme response from the Dames.
Although the interjections from production take away any naturalisms in the behavior, and certainly seem to irritate Maggie Smith (at one point even stopping to ask a camera man to leave her eyesight), it may be the only thing bringing excitement to a film that may otherwise have been four ladies talking in shorthand and laughing at their own inside jokes and shared personal experiences. I don’t want to call them elitist or demanding, but I also wouldn’t want to work as an assistant for any of these ladies. And I would have to guess that there must have been a personal relationship with the filmmaker for these women to agree to the project, and can also imagine it would never happen a second time.
The DVD for the film was released some time ago, with a Blu-ray version just made available.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 8/10
Special Features: 0/10