Imagine getting the opportunity to sit down with and listen to what Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright, all grand women of British film and theater, have to say about their lives and careers. It would be a great treat. Well, the next best thing is seeing “Tea With the Dames,” an entertaining and illuminating film directed by Roger Mitchell, who had the wisdom of getting these stars together for a friendly chat.
We see the four sitting and engaging in the exchange of comments, often witty, about their experiences. Also tantalizing is the collection of film clips showing what they looked like in their youthful performances. What we see then and what we see of them now is a reminder of how age may take its physical toll, and yet the life experience has served to sharpen their reflections and observations.
Joan Plowright, now 88, is suffering from blindness and needs help in getting around. She was married to Laurence Olivier so we get to hear a bit about that liaison. Maggie Smith has a gift for wry comments, some reminding us of various characters she has portrayed, and she professes to have never seen an episode of “Downton Abby.”
Judi Dench, who has appeared in an assortment of films as well as on stage, is noted popularly for her acting in James Bond films. But she and others in the group especially treasure their theater work. Eileen Atkins, for example, made her Broadway debut in 1966 in “The Killing of Sister George.” They are all skilled in the classics.
It would take a lot space to list all of the awards the four have received in Britain and in the United States. But at this tea they come across as four friends exchanging stories and bitchy remarks covering their colorful lifetimes of experience, including work with assorted leading men.
Here is a chance to sit down with them and, in addition to enjoying what they have to say currently, see archival evidence of why they have received the collective stature that provides the reason for his film. An IFC Films release. Reviewed September 22, 2018.