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Tea with Mussolini (1999)

PG | | Drama, Comedy, War | 14 May 1999 (USA)
An orphaned Italian boy is raised among a circle of British and American women living in Mussolini's Italy before and during the Second World War.


Franco Zeffirelli


John Mortimer, Franco Zeffirelli (autobiography)

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Won 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 4 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Cher ... Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan
Judi Dench ... Arabella
Joan Plowright ... Mary Wallace
Maggie Smith ... Lady Hester Random
Lily Tomlin ... Georgie Rockwell
Baird Wallace Baird Wallace ... Luca
Charlie Lucas Charlie Lucas ... Luca (Child)
Massimo Ghini Massimo Ghini ... Paolo Guarnieri
Paolo Seganti ... Vittorio Fanfanni
Claudio Spadaro ... Mussolini
Mino Bellei Mino Bellei ... Cesare
Paul Chequer ... Wilfred Random, aka Miss Lucy
Tessa Pritchard Tessa Pritchard ... Connie Raynor
Michael Williams ... British Consul
Paula Jacobs Paula Jacobs ... Molly


In 1935 a group of elderly British women, whom 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... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A story of civilized disobedience


Drama | Comedy | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic elements, language, brief nudity and some mild violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:



Italy | UK


English | Italian

Release Date:

14 May 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Chá com Mussolini See more »


Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£123,788 (United Kingdom), 4 April 1999, Limited Release

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,633,183, 16 May 1999, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$14,348,123, 24 October 1999
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cattleya,Cineritmo,Medusa Film See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Lily Tomlin was born on the same day Nazi Germany invaded Poland, which was September 1, 1939. See more »


The breaking news radio announcement reporting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor also included information about President Roosevelt's speech the next day and the subsequent US declaration of war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. In effect it was a summary of two days' events and wouldn't be a breaking news announcement. See more »


[first lines]
Title Card: Florence 1935.
Title Card: The love affair between the artistically-inclined English community and Florence was soon to be overshadowed by the clouds of war.
Title Card: But at the moment the sun is still shining on the squares and statues, and the dictator Mussolini is the gentleman who makes the trains run on time.
Connie Raynor: Excuse me, are you the Consul?
British Consul: Yes.
Connie Raynor: Connie Raynor of the Morning Post. I'm fascinated to know what His Majesty's Consul in Florence makes of it all?
British Consul: I can't believe your readers would be ...
See more »

Alternate Versions

The MGM DVD, ISBN 0-7928-4300-2, is missing least one shot: The original tea with Mussolini scene ends with Mussolini forcing himself upon the reporter, forcing her onto his desk (i.e., he rapes her.) This DVD omits that ending and leaves the reporter's change in behavior unexplained. See more »


Features A Bridge Too Far (1977) See more »


Moonlight Magic
Written & Performed by Alan Moorhouse
See more »

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User Reviews

Tea with Charm, Elegance, Nostalgia, Affection and Decent Entertainment
7 October 2007 | by marcin_kukuczkaSee all my reviews

Tuscany, 1935, a group of ladies walk along the streets of the city deservedly considered one of the world's art pearls, Florence. We don't know the ladies at first but, in time, we find them intelligent women who perfectly understand English but hardly understand orders. These are Scorpioni, elderly English women who will play a decisive role in the story as well as in the life of a young boy, Luca, strikingly similar to the director himself in his youthful years, Franco Zeffirelli...

Zeffirelli's autobiographical movie TEA WITH MUSSOLINI is a charming sentimental piece of work the action of which takes place in the Italy of the 1930s and 1940s: the hardest period not only in the lives of those many who were living then but for the entire 20th century history, when, as many readers will probably agree with me, humanity seemed to be conquered by infernal ideologies and bestial hatred. Yet, according to what Zeffirelli shows us in the movie, even in those darkest days, there was also room for beauty protection, care, art admiration and mutual help. As a Zeffirelli's fan, I consider TEA WITH MUSSOLINI one of the director's best films. But not because it only shows how bad war was. That is something most of us already know well. I love the film for other reasons. I like it because...

...there are moments when you will cry, when you will think and when you will genuinely laugh. A proper balance of emotions supplied by the director makes the movie a very decent entertainment filled with affection, sorrow, even nostalgia but also fun, charm and comfort. Who can possibly skip the scene of football match, for instance? I also laughed openly at the moment the ladies teach the soldiers saying "Good night". Isn't that a useful way to teach good manners and a foreign language at the same time? The moving moment in the orphanage will leave your eyes teary and the words of Ms Wallace about our contact with dead people may put you to nostalgia. But not for long. This fact of the film's "heart" goes in pairs with brilliant musical score Zeffirelli is famous for in his movies galore. What depth is there in this music and what supply of positive emotions!

...there are, except for variety of moments, beautiful Tuscan landscapes which make the movie a true postcard from Florence, San Gimignano and a true promotion of the Florentine art. This is also in accordance with the "soul" that Zeffirelli is so deeply attached to. The colorful hills around San Gimignano and the unique flowers under the Tuscany's sun leave hardly anyone indifferent. Consider, for instance, Luca's introduction of San Gimignano while he follows the bus with the ladies.

...there are foremost genuinely flawless performances that have to be linked to the deep development of characters. That is the aspect I'd like to pay more attention to in my comment. The ladies who occur to be at the focus are unforgettable. They supply the partly Italian movie with the truly English spirit. Maggie Smith does a wonderful job as Lady Hester: elegant, well mannered but also naive in her confidence in Mussolini and reluctant of Americans, the lady who drinks the spectacular but tragic tea with the duce. Judi Dench is memorable as Arabella who has drunk the wine of Florence, warmed her hands with the fire of Boticelli and Michelangelo and wants to share this inner experience with other people. Joan Plowright is, as usual, genuine and unforgettable. She fits to particular roles and although she has carried some other brilliant roles in latest Zeffirelli movies, Ms Mary Wallace seems to be the character for her. Joan portrays a warm hearted lady who is not only a good cook introducing Luca to bacon with eggs but also a great intellectual so much in love with Shakespeare. Cher representing the American side is also very appealing as Elsa - a luxurious woman with a flair for paintings, a Picasso connoisseur whose cup of tea is not only modern art but also good heart. She once helped Luca and the time will come for her to be helped in the spirit of Shakespeare "Love thyself less"... Through these different characters, Zeffirelli appears to present the wonder of diversity in human beings. The two seemingly contradictory characters, Elsa and Lady Hester, seem to be of totally opposite natures. Yet, even they turn out to have something in common... Finally a mention must be made of Baird Wallace who perfectly portrays Luca as a youngster and Charlie Lucas as Luca a little boy. Great young talents!

There is, finally, a great message of the film: that war cannot ruin the world, that the power of spirit is endless, that real art is born in the deep of one's heart. The final scene when Arabella says at the remained fresco of Santa Fina Funeral "Let Her sleep" seems to symbolize an eternal human quest for the sublime and the mysterious presence. If the "presence" is there, we shouldn't have anything to worry about. The horror of war is ceased and the historic sounds of San Gimignano bells ringing out joyfully together with the director's message proclaim the reconciliation and peace. The twin towers stand as silent witnesses...

Franco Zeffirelli, we should indeed appreciate art since it is the art that may bring out the genius of mankind.

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