The documentary Tea with the Dames is exactly as it is advertised: A quartet of legendary British dames having a long conversation about their lengthy careers while sipping tea. As a result, we might not see it compete in the Oscar race for Best Documentary since films in that category tend to deal with heftier subject matter. But Tea with the Dames is still a worthwhile experience regardless. It’s an insightful look into the lives of legendary performers that also works as a piece of pure escapism.
Seeing Dame Maggie Smith discuss becoming a mainstay in pop culture thanks to Harry Potter and Downton Abbey is rather delightful. She also gets detailed because she delves a bit into the filmmaking process of the first Harry Potter film, talking about how the camera would focus more on the children while filming quick reaction shots of her and the adult actors.
However, while the conversations these ladies have delve into the artistry of acting and their experiences of being on a film set, there are times where they do get serious. For example, Judi Dench discusses how she fell victim to the ageism present in the industry before she was offered the role of Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, the role that landed Dench her first Oscar nomination. Since then, her career has flourished and she’s probably become more prolific than she was in her younger years.
We get to see Maggie Smith and Judi Dench go into great detail about their lives. However, we don’t get much of a backstory from Eileen Atkins or Joan Plowright. Understandably, Dench and Smith are the ones that possess more star power. But it would’ve also been nice to hear a bit more about the experiences of Atkins and Plowright. Then again, maybe Eileen and Joan didn’t do as much speaking. Either that or they had plenty to say that was left on the cutting room floor due to time constraints.
For what it’s worth, we do get to see Eileen Atkins discuss how she got her start as a theatre actress and slightly delve into the differentiation between film and theatrical acting. There are even moments where Joan Plowright goes a bit into her home life and marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier. However, it still mostly feels like the “Maggie and Judi” show.
Despite that slight flaw, Tea with the Dames is worth a watch for anyone who’s a fan of these actresses. It’s enjoyable watching them engage in witty banter but it’s also fascinating seeing them talk about their prestigious careers. Have a sip of tea and enjoy!