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Tea with Mussolini (1999) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot Summary

  • 1935. A group of elderly British women, who the Italians have named the Scorpioni, have chosen Italy, specifically Florence, as a place to live to blend their proper British sensibilities with their love of Italian art and culture. One of those Scorpioni, Mary Walsh, works as the English secretary for Paolo Innocente, who, in part because of his own wife's adamant refusal, largely neglects his illegitimate adolescent son, Luca, despite Paolo's want for Luca to grow up to be a proper young man, much like the English. Luca has lived in an orphanage since his dressmaker mother's death, death a concept that Luca does not yet understand. As such, he often runs away looking for his mother. On a mutual agreement between Paolo and Mary, Mary becomes Luca's guardian, she who will receive help in raising Luca by her fellow Scorpioni and financial help from Paolo as needed. Associated with the Scorpioni is a brash younger nouveau riche Jewish-American woman named Elsa Morgenthal, who, because of her affection for Luca's mother to who she owed money, sets up a trust for Luca's future. Among the Scorpioni, Lady Hester Random, the widow of the former ambassador to Italy, in particular and Elsa do not get along because of their fundamental outward differences. The life for the Scorpioni changes with the onset of WWII, more specifically when Italy declares war on Britain and France. Despite all of the Scorpioni taken into custody of sorts by the Italians, they are eventually housed in the comforts of a hotel. Lady Hester wrongly believes it is her association with Mussolini that has gotten them into their comfortable surroundings, but which in reality was arranged and paid for by Elsa. Luca, who has just returned to Italy after attending school in Austria, helps Elsa with her efforts to assist those persecuted in Italy. Luca, now a teenager, has fallen in love with Elsa. As such, Luca is jealous of Elsa's professional and personal relationship with Italian lawyer Vittorio Fanfanni. Elsa's own situation becomes more precarious with the United States' entrance into the war, the Nazis' increasing persecution of Jews, and Luca discovering that Fanfanni has ulterior motives in his relationship with Elsa. Through it all, Mary still tries to be the voice of what is right to Luca, who may be tainted by his own immature teenaged thoughts during these difficult times.

    - Written by Huggo
  • Semi-autobiographical tale from the early life of director Franco Zeffirelli looks at the illegitimate son of an Italian businessman. The boy's mother has died, and he is raised by an Englishwoman in pre-WWII Fascist Italy. Living to each other in Florence, and presided over by an ambassador's widow, a group of Englishwomen live a sheltered existence which they believe is guaranteed personal protection in a tea reception given by Il Duce. However, as war breaks out, the women are interned. Occasionally in this English colony is a wealthy American, who visits among her travels and marriages to wealthy older men. She respects the "Scorpioni", as they are known, and secretly arranges for their stay in a hotel. The ambassador's widow finds her vulgar and tries to ignore her, but when the United States enters the war, the American too is taken into custody. Only then does she discover that her Italian lover has tricked her into signing over all her money and modern art collection to him, and is now arranging her execution. This obliges all to join forces. Lily Tomlin also appears as an American archaeologist working at a dig in the city.

    - Written by John Sacksteder <jsackste@bellsouth.net>
  • Semi-autobiographical tale from the early life of director Franco Zeffirelli. An illegitimate child is raised by an Englishwoman in pre-WWII Fascist Italy, part of an English community in Florence presided over by a diplomat's widow. Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan is a wealthy American collector of modern art who visits these "Scorpioni" on occasion.

    - Written by Dehlia

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