Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who also wrote the screenplay with John Mortimer, this (1999) semi-autobiographical tale revolves around an illegitimate Italian child named Luca, whose wealthy father provides financial support but otherwise ignores him. Taken under the wing of Mary Wallace (Joan Plowright), one of a group of British women who have remained in Italy during the rule of Mussolini, he learns English and enjoys the only stability he has ever known. When Italy allies itself with Germany, his father sends him off to school in Germany, but Luca remains close to "Miss Mary." 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
I caught this film a few years ago on Channel 4 (in England), and was quite taken with its story telling. One cannot but notice the stellar cast - Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin and, believe it or not, Cher. They, however, do not dominate the film, nor does it become a case of watching actors trying to out-act each other. Much more, each plays a gracious part to the other, allowing the story to come through.
The cinematography is excellent, with San Gimignano and Florence caught beautifully. The music score is supportive and well-written without drowning the scenes in emotion.
All in all, the film comes across as very 'English' (or rather, what 'English' once was) - balanced, gracious, never too much and always polite. If anything, the film is worth £7 just for Maggie Smith's line at the end.
Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Cher, make for superb viewing in this delicious film of love and friendship. Set in Florence in 1937, these English woman have lived in Florence several years and see it as their home. They rally around Luca a young boy born of a now deceased English seamstress and an arrogant Italian father who rejects Luca. These women teach him to love art, literature and history. But there is dark side when the women are forced to leave Florence and are horded into a derelict hotel when Italy goes to war with Hilter. Maggie Smith is funny and stoically British and stands her ground when she has tea with Mussolini at his palace. A wonderful story and great viewing. I've watched it several times since I purchased it because it is such a lovely story.
Semi-autobiographical tale from the early life of director Franco Zeffirelli looks at the illegitimate son of an Italian businessman. The boy's mother has died, and he is raised by an Englishwoman (Joan Plowright) in pre-WWII Fascist Italy. Living to each other in Florence, and presided over by an ambassador's widow (Maggie Smith), a group of Englishwomen live a sheltered existence which they believe is guaranteed personal protection in a tea reception given by Il Duce. However, as war breaks out, the women are interned. Occasionally in this English colony is a wealthy American (Cher), who visits among her travels and marriages to wealthy older men. She respects the "Scorpioni", as they are known, and secretly arranges for their stay in a hotel. When the United States enters the war, the American too is taken into custody. Only then does she discover that her Italian lover has tricked her into signing over all her money and modern art collection to him, and is now arranging her execution. This obliges all to join forces.
Tea With Mussolini is great entertainment. It is maybe not the great film so many had thought it would be, but with a true story, great casting and performances, and an interesting setting and time it is highly enjoyable. The female cast was fantastic. In particular Maggie Smith as Lady Hester, the crusty, sharp tongued wife of the former ambassador, Joan Plowright as the sweet but strong grandmotherly type and Julie Dench as the "arty" one. Cher as the brash, nouveau riche American was well cast. The men in general cannot match the female cast. The only objection I have that the characters might be a bit too stereotyped: the film perpetuates the idea of British as tea-drinking stiff upper lippers, Americans as rich, brash, everything is buying but in the end good at heart. Well all in good fun.
I am simply too grateful Master Franco Zeffirelli could make this autobiographical film, so charged with true emotions, the emotions of a young kid left by his parents, and the troubles of a teenager during World War II and Nazi occupation of Italy. The English community living in Florence is a tribute Zeffirelli pays to all the English who love Tuscany and Italy and his own personal tribute for making him love England so much. It is a truthful, emotional connotated, moving, delighful and fresh film.
I really love this film and all those in it. Joan Plowright is perfection. A story with a happy end, beautifully produced with great sensitivity and humour, and it is a true story. Its a film unlike any other I have seen. Perhaps it is because I am an old person too that I enjoy it so much - I did lend it to a young french couple who tell me honestly what they think, and they enjoyed it too. What more can I say.