Dames Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith get together for tea to reminisce and discuss their acting careers.Dames Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith get together for tea to reminisce and discuss their acting careers.Dames Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith get together for tea to reminisce and discuss their acting careers.
What might surprise most viewers are the forgivable glimpses of vulnerability: not just Plowright's physical infirmities, but the actresses' general admissions of fright on the boards and on camera, and memories of regrets and bad judgments.
Other reviews have complained about the archival footage -- but I found most of it delightful, especially since we Americans have rarely seen these jewels on stage, particularly early in their careers. Most of us probably can picture Dench or Smith only as regal elders in "Downton Abbey," or the James Bond and Harry Potter franchises. These women were never glamorous beauties in her youth, but they were all undeniably magnetic.
The clips are all mostly very short, anyway, save for some home-movie footage of an early outdoor production that the filmmakers probably linger over to savor Dench's surprise and pleasure at seeing ancient footage of herself as a very young thespian.
The complaints about time devoted to Olivier are unwarranted, as well, since all these women worked with him on stage and under his direction. He was, after all, artistic director of the National Theatre when these actresses were in their board-treading primes ... and he was married to Plowright for nearly three decades. We do see footage and discussion of several other husbands, but the average American would not know them.
My complaints center not so much on anything that's in the film, but all that's not. So much more could have been addressed, and I would have loved to see more clips of their early stage and film work. But one must respect the privacy of venerable ladies, and to have pressed several of them any further would likely have taxed their stores of energy as well as patience.
The film climaxes with the subjects' answers to the question of what advice they would have given their younger selves, which is hilarious and touching. Don't miss the final tongue-twister the filmmakers give the quartet, which Dench manages, Plowright manages, Atkins NAILS, and Smith utterly and hilariously blows, probably because she decided it's not worth the trouble.
- Dec 5, 2018