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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
Elsa is referred to as "a Jew". Until long after World War II, a female Jew in Europe was referred to as "a Jewess". See more »
The love affair between the artistically-inclined English community and Florence was soon to be overshadowed by the clouds of war.
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.
Excuse me, are you the Consul?
Connie Raynor of the Morning Post. I'm fascinated to know what His Majesty's Consul in Florence makes of it all?
I can't believe your readers would be ...
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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 »
This is a very European movie. Whereas Hollywood overstates, Europe understates. The story is based on the autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli, born in 1922, who became a prominent Italian stage director and achieved world fame as a director of filmed stage pieces such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet, and "La Traviata." The film deals with the years 1935-44. After the death of his mother Zeffirelli, or Luca in the film, an illegitimate child more or less rejected by his father, was looked after by a group of eccentric art-loving English ladies who had made Florence their home - on their terms. The locals call them the "Scorpioni" - a tribute to their acid tongues. When Mussolini declared war on Britain in 1940, the ladies were interned in a beautiful mountaintop village near Florence, guarded by a couple of long-suffering policeman, their lifestyle of sketching, painting, art appreciation and fine dining scarcely changing.
The setting is the Florentine treasure troves of Tuscan art, the Uffizi, Il Duomo and the Academy. The English are led by three grand dames of the theatre, Joan Plowright as Arabella, Luca's chief protector, Maggie Smith, and Judy Dench (with her real life husband Michael Williams in a supporting role as the British consul.). Then there are two equally larger than life Americans, a retired but still glamorous movie star played by Cher, and a bike-riding lesbian archaeologist played by Lily Tomlin. Most of the Italian characters are overshadowed by all this Anglo ego. (Or maybe it's just poor dubbing, or John Mortimer's part in the scriptwriting). The two boys playing Luca at different ages are good looking but the older one in particular is a bit vacuous, and Cher's impossibly handsome Italian boyfriend puts in a wooden performance.
There are a couple of plot-lines (will Cher escape the Jewish round-up, will the ladies make it through the war OK) and the occasional funny scene but the interest is really in the characters. Not that all of them are particularly attractive people. Maggie Smith's Lady Hester, widow of a former British Ambassador to Italy, is a dreadful old snob with hardly any brains who likes the fascists and has scarcely a good word for anybody else except her late husband. She engineers the tea party with Il Duce, fondly imagining that Mussolini himself will ensure the ladies' safety in Florence. A few days later the local fascists tip them out of the Uffizi gallery where they were accustomed to take tea while they sketched the old masters. Yet at the end she does show a little genuine good grace when she intervenes to help Cher.
It's a curious piece, reminiscent of "Life is Beautiful" - a light comedy with a deadly serious titanic struggle between good and evil going on in the background, a background which seems altogether too gorgeous to accommodate such evil. Good, represented by a Scottish major, triumphs in the end, only to be put in his place by the Scorpioni. Zeffirelli here pays his artistic and personal debt to them. Wacky though they were, the Scorpioni did know the difference between good and evil, or at least the difference between good art and bad art, and they taught Zeffirelli well.
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