Film Review: NOTHING LIKE A DAME (UK 2018) ***1/2

Tea with the Dames Poster

Dames Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith have let the cameras in on a friendship that goes back more than half a century. The four acting greats discuss their …See full summary »


Roger Michell

NOTHING LIKE A DAME follows four grand British dames of the cinema and theatre as they sit back and have tea.  It is a unique and rare opportunity to enter into their presence and share their esteemed company.  Director Michell captures the intimacy of the situation.  The four dames discuss the highs and lows of heir careers, their romances and as well as their advice on life.

The four dames are Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith.

Director Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL) takes his audience into the setting of a rural cottage in England that Plowright built with her late husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, the legendary actor.  The four sit outside in the garden or inside in the kitchen or dining room often drinking tea. Or sipping champagne.  

A fair warning that the film is clearly British-bound – which means that unless you have a fair knowledge or at least interest in British fare, NOTHING LIKE A DAME might be a complete bore – like a visitor in uncomfortable company.

For the rest, there are lots to enjoy especially from the presented archive footage of plays performed at the National Theatre, London to old movies that feature the four dames in their younger days.

Director Michell resists the temptation of using the Roger and Hammerstein song “Nothing Like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC.  The soundtrack often heard instead is the haunting and nostalgic theme composed by Nino Rota for Federico Fellini’s AMARCORD.   The score is at once immediately recognizable to cineastes and an appropriate one at that, as AMACORD means I REMEMBER.  The film is wholly made up of the memories of the four women.

Michell poses interview questions to the four, heard quietly, as if under his breath.  One involves the experiences of working with ones husband.  Their funny retort: “Which one?”  The clear one comes to mind is Sir Laurence Olivier married to Joan Plowright.  There is a clip from their movie together THE ENTERTAINER in which Plowright plays oddly enough, Olivier’s daughter.  Maggie Smith also talks about working with Olivier in OTHELLO with a clip of the film shown to illustrate the incident.  Also included is the famous scene of Smith kissing her husband who plays her lover in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

It is on a humbling note that none of them consider themselves as great beauties  They each laugh at never been seriously considered beautiful enough to win the role of Cleopatra.  They claim only to be laughed at when they mentioned the fact to their friends.  Dench herself says that she is too short while Atkins claims that she was never considered a great beauty, nit even by her father.

Near the end of the film, each offer wise words on life.  Atkins talks about being more even tempered and never to get angry while the others talk above the importance of love and the coordinated use of the brain with the body.



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