Tea With the Dames (2018): Roger Michell’s Tale of Four Dames and Icons–Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith

Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), Tea With the Dames centers on four screen icons, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith, as they talk about their lives: their experience in theatre, TV, and cinema, and the memories they have from when they were bright young things right up to the present day.

Sixty years ago, seismic changes ripped through the cultural establishment and, together with music and fashion, British theatre experienced an explosion of creativity and talent, the impact of which was felt around the world and is still tangible today. Pivotal to these creative and social shifts were a group of young actresses including Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith. All have received Damehoods in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the acting profession.

From time to time four old friends, all extraordinary actresses, meet up in the English countryside to gossip, to remember and to laugh.  All four have gone from being fledgling actresses in the 1950s to acting royalty. They’ve watched each other’s careers grow and bloom and have celebrated life’s ups and downs together.  Candid, funny, caustic, irreverent, poignant and utterly engrossing, this unmissable release is proof that there is truly nothing like a Dame…

Together, they’re 342 years old. They’re in their seventh decade of cutting-edge, epoch-defining performances on stage and on screen. Funny, smart, sharp, competitive, tearful, hilarious, savage, clever, caustic, cool, gorgeous, poignant, irreverent, iconic, old in age and yet unbelievably young in spirit.

Special friends, special women and special Dames: and in this special film a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with them all, at the same table, at the same time, and enjoy sparkling and unguarded conversation spliced with a raft of astonishing archive.

Director’s Vision:

I wanted these amazing women to do what they are all world champions at doing: talking, yacking, gossiping, reminiscing, reflecting, cursing, loving, praising and laughing. I wanted the film to make us feel like we’re eavesdropping, that nothing’s been rehearsed, or is being presented to camera. My ambition was to create something that felt like anthropology, like journalism, like a privileged intimacy, not reverential, not polite, not hovering deferentially around Grand Dames. I wanted to put these extraordinary women around a table or two and get a glimpse of their pasts, their presents, their affection for each other and their interaction with each other. I didn’t want to stage anything, repeat anything, fake anything. More in the spirit of a rockumentary than a lyrical study in Lavender: more the Rolling Stones than the rolling countryside: more Spice Girls than Sibelius.


A Field Day Productions / BBC Arena Co-Production and produced by Emmy, Peabody and RTS Award Winner Sally Angel (NIGHT WILL FALL) and Karen Steyn.  Sally Angel and Debbie Manners are Executive Producers for Field Day and Anthony Wall for the BBC.

EILEEN ATKINS was born in Clapton and brought up in Tottenham – her mother was a dressmaker and her father an electric metre reader. On the strength of a gypsy’s prediction that she’d be a famous dancer, her mother enrolled her into dancing lessons from the age of three. She started performing at the age of seven at working men’s club. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1957 and married fellow actor Julian Glover.  From the late 50’s Eileen starred in BBC TV dramas along with Judi Dench and earned numerous BAFTA nominations.  She made her Broadway debut in 1966 in The Killing of Sister George for which she landed her first (of four) Tony Award nominations for Best Actress. With Jean Marsh, she created the award-winning drama series Upstairs, Downstairs (1971) and The House of Eliott (1991).  Starring again with Judi Dench in the TV drama Cranford (2008), she won a Bafta and an Emmy for the role of Deborah Jenkyns.  Her first love is the theatre and has appeared on Broadway many times to great acclaim.  She starred with Maggie Smith in the play A Delicate Balance (1997) which earned her an Evening Standard Best Performance Award. With Maggie again, she appeared in Robert Altman’s film Gosford Park in 2001. Americans will have seen her most recently playing Queen Mary in The Crown on Netflix.


JUDI DENCH was born in 1934 in Heworth, North Riding of Yorkshire.  Judi followed her brother Jeff into the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Judi met Maggie Smith at the Old Vic and made her professional debut there in 1957 as Ophelia in Hamlet. In 1961, Judi joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, where she met her husband Michael Williams.  During this time, her television plays gained critical acclaim.  A change in direction saw her take the lead role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret, her first musical, in 1968.  Michael and Judi’s daughter Finty was born in 1972 and she continued her work on stage and screen, starring opposite Michael in the television comedy series A Fine Romance. In the early 80’s Judi appeared alongside Maggie Smith in A Room with A View in 1985. In the late 80’s Judi accepted Kenneth Branagh’s request for her to direct Much Ado about Nothing on the stage and she continued to direct over the next few years.  Judi had another successful television sitcom with As Time Goes By with Geoffrey Palmer.  In the 90’s, her audience grew when she was cast as Queen Victoria in the film Mrs. Brown and she was nominated for her first Academy Award®. One of her most iconic film roles was as M, James Bond’s boss, in GoldenEye (1995) and she continued in that role until Skyfall in 2012. She won an Academy Award® as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love (1998).  Since then she has been nominated for an Academy Award® for the films Chocolat, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal and Philomena. She also appeared alongside Maggie Smith in the 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and they both returned for its 2015 sequel.


JOAN PLOWRIGHT was born in Brigg, Lincolnshire in 1929, later moving to Scunthorpe which had become a boom town in the 30’s.   Her Father was editor of the local newspaper and her mother a leading light in the amateur dramatic society.  She studied at the Laban Art of Movement Studio before winning a scholarship to The Old Vic Theatre School run by Michel Saint-Denis and George Devine who were to have a great influence on her career.  She joined The Old Vic Theatre Company and married fellow actor Roger Gage.  Her early Theatre career included being chosen by Orson Welles to appear in his extraordinary stage adaptation of Moby Dick.  In 1956, George Devine asked her to join his Company at The Royal Court Theatre where she appeared in a number of landmark plays –by Eugene Ionesco, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, Arnold Wesker and John Osborne.  Her first success in a leading part was in Devine’s classic revival of The Country Wife which transferred to the West End.  Sir Laurence Olivier, a friend of Devine, came to see the play and she was offered the part of Jean Rice in Osborne’s The Entertainer.  But the part that put her on the map was Beatie Bryant in Arnold Wesker’s Roots. Drama Critic Bernard Levine wrote “…Miss Joan Plowright’s mammoth performance as the bud which has begun to open, reaches true greatness”. Dame Sybil Thorndike, the original Saint Joan, came to see the play and said she must play Saint Joan.  Early in 1959 she went to New York to re-join Olivier for the New York production of The Entertainer– they fell in love. At the time both were still married but living separately.  Although he was still married to Vivien Leigh the relationship was over and divorce had been agreed.  In 1961 they returned to New York, he to play in Becket with Anthony Quinn and she in A Taste of Honey with Angela Lansbury. She won The Tony Award and The Page One (New York Guild of Newspapers) Award.  They married in 1961 secretly in Wilton, Connecticut and went back to their respective Theatres for their performances. They were given a Wedding Party by Richard Burton (who was playing in Camelot) and his first wife Sybil, Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards. They returned to England in 1961 where Olivier took charge of the new Chichester Festival Theatre and settled in Brighton. In the same year Joan gave birth to the first of their three children – Richard, Tamsin and Julie- Kate.  In 1963, Olivier was appointed founder Director of the New National Theatre. Joan played Sonya in Uncle Vanya and her first Award winning performance as Saint Joan at Chichester and repeated both at The National Theatre in its first season. Other early National Theatre productions included Masha in The Three Sisters, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, and she took over from Maggie Smith as Hilde Wangel in The Master Builderwith Olivier as Solness.  She and Maggie also alternated as Beatrice in Zeffirelli’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.  Joan was later to work with Zeffirelli in the Award winning productions of Edwardo de Filippo’s Saturday Sunday Monday and Filumena in the West End –(SWET Award: Adeline Rastori Italian Prize: Golden Pulchinelli Italian Prize and the Evening Standard Award).  In the late 90’s she also appeared in his films Jane Eyre and Tea with Mussolini which brought her together with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. In the early 80’s she joined Director Lindsay Anderson and Producer Helen Montague to form The Lyric Theatre Company and appeared as Madame Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull with the young Helen Mirren as Nina.  They played together again in The Bed Before Yesterday and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.  Television Credits included: Viola in Twelfth Night; Edith in A Dedicated Man (Granada); Daphne Laureola (Granada); Merchant of Venice (ITV); Rosa in Saturday Sunday Monday (Granada); Encore Encore with Nathan Lane (USA); Lady Teazle School for Scandal (BBC); Lady Bracknell The Importance of Being Ernest (BBC); House of Bernarda Alba (BBC); Driving Miss Daisy (Warner Brothers TVFilm); Meg in The Birthday Party (BBC) and Sophie By Herself (Channel 4). She came late to films but enjoyed success in I Love You to Death with Tracy Ullman, Keanu Reeves and Kelvin Klein, Enchanted April, Dennis the Menace with Walter Matthau, Equus with Richard Burton and Eileen Atkins and her last film before semi-retirement Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont.  She won an Oscar Nomination and two Golden Globes for Enchanted April and HBO Stalin and a BAFTA Nomination for the film The Three Sisters.


MAGGIE SMITH has had a distinguished career in theatre, film and television. She has won two Academy Awards® for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and CAILIFORNIA SUITE and numerous other awards for performances on stage and on film and on television. Her most recent film is THE LADY IN THE VAN (directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner and written by Alan Bennett from his book and play, which Dame Maggie appeared in on stage in London). Of course she is known worldwide as Professor McGonagall in all the HARRY POTTER films and as the Dowager Duchess in the very popular series of   on ITV. She has been honoured with the CBE and DBE and most recently has been made a Companion of Honour. She received the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize in 1991, is a Fellow of the British Film Institute, and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from BAFTA® in 1993. She is an Honorary D.Litt of Cambridge University and of St Andrews, and is a patron of the Jane Austen Society. She is also a Vice-President of the Royal Theatrical Fund.