Gather four award-winning, accomplished British actresses to gossip, reflect on their careers and to a lesser degree their private lives and you’ve got Tea with the Dames. Starring Joan Plowright, who I learned was Lawrence Olivier’s third wife, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, Tea with the Dames is shot in Plowright’s country home which provides an idyllic English setting for the actresses to look back on their careers and friendships. Plowright and Smith do touch on Olivier’s sharp criticism. He sure could make a cutting remark to anyone who wasn’t performing as he thought they should.
I learned how each actress got started, how dedicated they are to their profession and what they thought when they received their titles. I wasn’t that familiar with Atkin’s work and from the film, I still don’t after viewing this film. The film’s designed for people well acquainted with the actresses. If you’re not, I think you’d find it confusing.
There’s no real structure and the film meanders more than most interview programs. Still these women are captivating and I enjoyed seeing how confident and at home with themselves and with each other these women were.
André Gregory, who starred in My Dinner with André, is certainly unique and directs like no other director. Vanya on 42nd Street is such a unique play or project and finally a film. He assembled a wonderful cast including Wallace Shawn and Juliette Moore to get together and rehearse Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for years. Several times a week the actors would perform this play — for 4 years. It wasn’t till the third year that they started to invite a handful of guests to watch them. Eventually, Louis Malle agreed to direct a film version of their play.
The story involves an extended family, who like the family in The Cherry Orchard, have money problems. On top of that several men in the story are smitten by Yelena, a beautiful young woman who’s married to an old scholar. There’s lots of conflict in the family revolving around personal grievances and what to do about their money problems. Because the actors performed this play so many times over a long period and thus became intimate with their cast members they reported that this story was like no other to them thus there’s a depth to this performance that’s palpable and like no other performance. The actors perform in a gorgeous abandoned theater in ruins, which resonates with the play’s theme. Both the play, translated by David Mamet, and the Criterion Collection interviews are engrossing. The interviews made me appreciate the meticulous acting this process afforded. I’d definitely watch this again and again for the story and fine acting.