You already know if you want to watch Tea With the Dames, the cozy documentary about legendary actresses Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith sitting around telling stories about their careers. It is just lovely and so boring. It features wondrous footage of the Dames in bygone years: “Jude” doing the York Mystery Plays with her family in 1951, or Dame Joan playing against her future husband “Larry” Olivier in The Entertainer. Now and then you get the impression that one of them has hauled out an old chestnut well-burnished by time, but then they’ll all join in on some tale of the old National Theatre in the 1960s, interrupting and supplementing each other’s memories, and you can feel just how alive their careers have been with collaboration.
It’s truly a joy to hear each of them speak, and sometimes share comfortable silences, in a little sitting room in Joan’s country house, the rain pattering on the windows and Larry’s old awards still gracing the wall. Each Dame is given a few moments to shine. You’ll surely watch Tea With the Dames, eventually, on a TV in the corner of the kitchen while you bake. Until then, test your knowledge of the Great Dames with a quick quiz.
Name That Dame
Which Dame said it—Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, or Dame Maggie Smith?
1. “The more you get frightened [of a director], the less you can do. You can’t mend it.”
2. “I’ve turned Cleopatra down four times because I thought I wasn’t good-looking enough.”
3. “On the way to the theater I always think, Would you like to be run over now? And I only just come out on the side of no.”
4. “In The Letter, I played ‘A Chinese Boy.’ ‘A Chinese Boy’ in an opium den. And right at the beginning I played ‘The Malayan Woman.’ You can imagine my makeup.”
5. [Interviewer: “What would you tell your younger self?”] “Try not to be so susceptible to falling in love.”
6. “You have very pretty tits there.”
7. “ ‘We are not in the first rank of world beauties.’ That was what my mother would say. ‘You’re no oil painting, my girl, but you have lovely expressive eyes, and thank God you got my legs and not your father’s.’ ”
8. [On Downton Abbey:] “I haven’t seen it yet. They gave me a box set but I haven’t the time to watch it.”
9. [On being named a Dame:] “You phoned me when it happened to me, and you said, ‘It doesn’t make any difference, you can still swear.’ ”
10. “Well, darling, it’s quite difficult when you’ve got two titles.”