Tea with the Dames (aka Nothing Like a Dame) documentary review: legends speak

Come sit next to Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins and eavesdrop on their witty banter, amiable swearing, and grand tales of their stage and film careers.


Oh, nuthin’, just hangin’ out with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins. Not just dames in the sense of “awesome badass broads” but Dames in the British equivalent to a Sir (aka a knight), titles awarded by the Queen for, in their cases, services to drama. Truth be told, I didn’t see — thank goddess — much grandee aloofness here, nor any tea being consumed in the delightfully droll and snarky conversation director Roger Michell captured among these longtime friends, though there might be some bubbly later in the afternoon.

Dame Maggie

Dame Maggie

So bring you own tea — or booze — to Tea with the Dames (titled Nothing Like a Dame when it was released in the UK earlier this year). You will want it if only to feel like you are worthy of being permitted to sit quietly among these extraordinary, legendary women, at Plowright’s home in the English countryside, and eavesdrop on their tales of horrible bullying directors (all men, of course); their self-doubt and lack of courage even after they’d achieved enviable success; the bizarre lines of dialogue and snippets of odd songs from otherwise forgotten plays only they seem to recall; and the peculiarities and indignities of getting old as women, particularly in our culture, which has little use for little old ladies. (Needless to say, they smash the stereotype of the “little old lady.”) Fab clips of their work, some dating back so far that even the dames are astonished, accompany the witty, comfortable banter and amiable swearing — “Fuck off, Roger” may be uttered once or twice, affably, in response as the director attempts to drop some prompt into their chat.

Dame Eileen

Dame Eileen

These women are the old guard of classic modern theater and film, as we are reminded when we realize that when they gossip about Joan’s (now dead) husband, “Larry,” they are talking about Sir Laurence Olivier. But they have much to say to women — especially young women — today, too: their advice to their younger selves, if they were able to offer it (I shan’t spoil what it is), is utterly of the moment, as women today continue to face barriers enragingly not unlike the ones they faced in the 1950s and 60s. And Dench’s observation that “fear is petrol” to fuel one’s creative urges is absolutely electrifying and embraceable. If you don’t already adore and worship these women before you see this film — though what is wrong with you if you don’t? — you will afterward.

‘Tea with the Dames’ opens at the Quad Cinema in New York tomorrow. It will debut on demand in the US on September 27th. It is available now — as ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ — on DVD and VOD in the UK.

originally published at FlickFilosopher.com

See my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

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