Il Scorpioni witness the rise of fascism and the dangers of resistance, weathering dictatorial custody and (in Elsa's case) falling prey to heartbreaking betrayal. But Tea with Mussolini carries little dramatic weight; you have to forgive its unfocused structure to appreciate its merits. Zeffirelli gently conveys the passage from pleasantry to wartime, and he's drawn uniformly fine performances from this seasoned cast. If the film is vaguely unsatisfying, it's only because it had the makings of greatness and settles instead for an ethereal quality of anecdotal enchantment. --Jeff Shannon
A declaration of war is a mere detail since securing the 'word' of Il Duce that their safety was in his personal guarantee at a tea party so magnanimously hosted by the man himself.
How could the word of such a nice man be doubted since, after all, he made the trains run on time, didn't he!
With the grim reminders of war reverberating in their ears, how were they to prevail?
This moving and compassionate film is studded with marvelous one-liners from Maggie Smith aimed mainly at Cher's character who shares the limelight equally with a powerful cast, including Jean Plowright and Dame Judy Dench.
A 'must see' movie, no question.
Lady Hester Random (Maggie Smith), artist Arabella (Judi Dench), and several other expatriots, are all in Mary Wallace's very British social circle. Under Lady Hester's direction, they are insulated, self-satisfied, and exclusive, and regard people like Elsa Morganthau-Strauss, an American parvenu and art-collector (Cher), as beneath them. She mockingly refers to them as the "scorpioni," an opinion shared by Georgie, an American archaeologist (Lily Tomlin). When the fascists threaten their lifestyle, Lady Hester, widow of the former ambassador, has tea with Mussolini, who promises to look after her and her friends personally. When war breaks out, however, promises are broken, and it is up to Luca, back from Germany, to try to help.
The level of irony is suggested in the title, as the "scorpioni" refuse to believe that Mussolini's "ungentlemanly" behavior could possibly affect them. Zeffirelli, alternates semi-serious scenes with extravagant, absurd scenes, much like the comic relief of the Shakespearean plays he has also directed, and he casts the film so that each of his stars plays to type--Maggie Smith as the hopelessly snobby aristocrat, Judi Dench as a fey and flighty artiste, Joan Plowright as the sweet and thoughtful grandmotherly sort, Cher as the most extravagant and crass American ever filmed, and Lily Tomlin as the no-nonsense realist who enjoys sticking pins into those who puff themselves up. The roles do not call for subtlety or originality, but it is great fun to watch these screen legends having fun here.
The gorgeous scenery, art, and architecture of Tuscany are well filmed by David Watkin, and the tone of the film remains light, focusing on the women and Luca almost exclusively. A satiric tale poking fun at everything from American crassness and British class-consciousness to the absurdities of Mussolini's pretentions, the film virtually ignores fascism's serious realities for the sake of the story line and its humor. Mary Whipple
For the student of the language, the Italian, when spoken, was great along with the vernacular and other colloquial expressions. The sub-titles were pretty good!
I am buying this video as a gift for my very mature Italian professoressa, who did live through some of the times depicted and hails from the region.
It is a pleasure to see the beautiful countryside and revisit San Giminagno.
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