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Tea with Mussolini



Home / Film Reviews / Tea with Mussolini

Tea with Mussolini


Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Actors: Cher, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Lily Tomlin
Rating: Rated "PG"

Boy, when they made "Steel Magnolias," little did anybody think that every movie with a mostly woman cast would be called up in comparison. The reason being that movies about the lives of women are very, very, rare and when you add the word aging to the mix, they are even rarer still.

So it is with a great sense of delight I tell you to run, not walk, to "Tea With Mussolini," a marvelous epic about the rise and fall of Il Duce, the Second World War in general, Italy in particular, and zeroing in on the location of Florence (the city of art) to be exact. Starring Cher (in stunning costumes) as Elsa Morganthal, a retired showgirl who has survived marriage to older (and richer) men, and acquired a fortune to spend on art (including a fake Picasso, the infamous "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"), Judi Dench (the protector of the frescoes), Joan Plowright (simply one of the best actresses of our time), Maggie Smith (playing Lady Hester, a meanie, and loving every minute), and Lily Tomlin (delightfully playing a "tough" woman archaeologist), these are the grandes dames that lived in Northern Italy from 1935 to 1945.

Called the "Scorpioni" by their neighbors, these ladies warped and woofed much of the cityís social fabric, beginning at a time when tea was served every afternoon, following through the Brown Shirts, then declarations of war, and finally victory.

Lady Hester finds little to like and has some great lines like a remark made when an American child is seen eating the American idea of an ice cream sundae, "They can even vulgarize ice cream!" And because of Cherís character along the way we get to see some wonderful art beginning with Ghirlandaio frescos (he was the teacher of Michaelangelo), the futuristic works of Balla, the Surrealism of Chirico, and, of course, a number of great Picassoís.

This is a movie that hearkens back to the old days of the cinema where big downtown theatres would often show something meant entirely as entertainment, having nothing to do with political dogma or the so-called charm of youth. (Back before teenagers ruled the world, there was no "charm of youth.")

So settle back and watch the passing parade, knowing in advance that the good guys will win. And hope that another independent producer gets the money to bring us another story-telling treat, in order to save the Hollywood expenditure of shattered glass, gallons of fake blood, and fire balls!