‘Tea with the Dames’: Revered Actresses Talk Career, Life

Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins in Conversation

Mark Johnson/IFC Films

Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) has created a fascinating, touching slice of cinematic/thespian life with minimal means, stoking rangy conversations between famed and witty British actresses who have been deemed Dames — Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins. The ladies gather in various locales and Dame-ly combinations, venturing down their respective and collective memory lanes. Michell seamlessly and intelligently weaves a tapestry of archival footage and film clips throughout to expand on the actresses’ commentaries — to poignant, cinematic-period-spanning ends. While blockbuster films have helped keep two of the Dames in the public eye — Smith in Harry Potter, Dench in Bond flicks, and both in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — all of their résumés include Shakespeare and screen work going back to the ’50s. The four women are led through various topics, including working with their actor husbands (Plowright was married to Sir Laurence Olivier, about whom Smith says, “I was more nervous of your husband than the critics. Everybody was. We were terrified.”). When asked about advice to young actors, Smith offers up, “When in doubt, don’t.” Dench: “Try not to be so susceptible to falling in love.” Smith: “It’s too late.” Plowright: “It’s never too late … to fall in love.” Laughter all around, and glasses of bubbly.