Tea With Mussolini

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An orphaned Italian boy is raised amongst a circle of British and American women living in Mussolini’s Italy before and during World War II.

ACTORS : Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright

YEAR OF RELEASE :  1999

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Tea With Mussolini  In 1935 a group of elderly British women, whom the Italians have named the Scorpioni, have chosen Italy, specifically Florence, as a place to live to blend their proper British sensibilities with their love of Italian art and culture. One of those Scorpioni, Mary Walsh (Dame Joan Plowright), works as the English secretary for Paolo Innocente (Massimo Ghini), who, in part because of his own wife’s adamant refusal, largely neglects his illegitimate adolescent son, Luca (Baird Wallace), despite Paolo’s want for Luca to grow up to be a proper young man, much like the English. Luca has lived in an orphanage since his dressmaker mother’s death, death a concept that Luca does not yet understand. As such, he often runs away looking for his mother. On a mutual agreement between Paolo and Mary, Mary becomes Luca’s guardian, she who will receive help in raising Luca by her fellow Scorpioni and financial help from Paolo as needed. Associated with the Scorpioni is a brash younger nouveau riche …

Acting is Amazingly Good in Intriguing Tale

Tea With Mussolini  This film is directed and co-authored by Franco Zeffirelli, and I couldn’t resist speculating on how much of it was actually true, since it is said to be based on Zeffirelli’s autobiography. However, true in part, true completely, in the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the amazing ensemble acting by Maggie Smith, Cher, Joan Plowwright, Judi Dench and Lily Tomlin (listing them in the order of significance to the story) and the stunning beauty of Florence where the film is set. The director and photographer plainly love the city, matching the love for it of the characters. Maggie Smith as the widow of a former British ambassador, the character that actually has tea with Mussolini, is the dominant figure in the film. However, Cher, playing a wealthy American — vulgar in the eyes of he British ladies — who turns out to be a complex, philanthropic Jew who must be smuggled out of the country in the end; Joan Plowwright as a kind lady who takes in the bastard son of an Italian businessman and teaches him to be an English gentleman; Judi Dench as an eccentric artist whose passion is to preserve a renaissance fresco from the Nazis during the war, and Lily Tomlin as a lesbian American archaeologist all deliver sterling performances. Cher’s performance is the most amazing — she holds her own in formidable company — but one expects, of course, to be dazzled by Maggie Smith, Joan Plowwright, Judi Dench and even by Lily Tomlin. It’s a sentimental, even melodramatic, tale, but see it for the ensemble acting. I can’t think of another film that equals Tea with Mussolini in that respect.

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