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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Michell’

The Dames: Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench

“TEA WITH THE DAMES” My rating: B- 

84 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Tea With the Dames” is a slapdash affair, less a well-crafted documentary than a fly-on-the-wall peek at a reunion of four great English actresses.

Theatre geeks will be captivated. Others perhaps not so much.

The “dames” of the title are Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, all of whom have received that honorary title from Queen Elizabeth for their contributions to English arts.

The youngest is 83, the oldest 88; one of them is blind; two are widows; the other two apparently are divorced (although their present marital status is never addressed).

For this doc director Roger Michell assembled the four at Plowright’s lovely country home (the one she shared with the late Sir Laurence Olivier) and over the course of a long weekend filmed them talking and sipping the occasional cordial.  The conversations are illustrated with clips and photos from the women’s illustrious careers.

Over the course of the film the ladies discuss their careers, their craft, their private lives (within limits). Occasionally director Michell attempts to steer the conversation, not that anyone pays him much attention. (“Let’s talk about aging,” suggests his off-camera voice. “Fuck you, Roger,” one of the dames shoots back.)

“Tea…” has no format, really.  The girls talk about what they damn well want to talk about.

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Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz

“MY COUSIN RACHEL”  My rating: B- 

106 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ambiguity can be a wondrous thing on the printed page, as exemplified by Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

In the dramatic arts, though, ambiguity  can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.

“My Cousin Rachel,” the second filmed version of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel (the first, in 1952, starred Olivia DeHavilland and introduced Richard Burton to American audiences), is a well-made, well-acted yarn that is overwhelmingly faithful to the source material.

Problem is, the source material is one big guessing game — a game in which cut-and-dried answers are not forthcoming. It gives us a title character whose motivations and inner are  deliberately left obscured.

We can watch with intellectual fascination, but it’s hard to be moved when you don’t know who to root for.

Set in 19th century rural England, the tale centers on the orphaned Philip (Sam Claflin of “The Hunger Games,” “Me Before You” and “Their Finest”). Philip was reared by his wealthy cousin Ambrose on a remote Cornish estate where a bachelor ethos has always prevailed…i.e. no women.

As the film begins the ailing Ambrose (seen only fleetingly in flashbacks) has gone to Italy where the climate is more beneficial, leaving Philip in charge of the estate. Ambrose sends back letters describing meeting an English/Italian widow named Rachel, whom he marries.

But the tone of his letters soon turns dark. Ambrose accuses his new bride of slowly poisoning him and intercepting his outgoing epistles. Philip rushes to Italy but arrives too late — Ambrose has died (of a brain tumor, according to an inquest) and his new wife is nowhere to be found.

Philip returns to the vast English properties he now owns, only to find that Rachel (Rachel Weisz) has followed him to England. Initially Philip treats her with suspicion and contempt, but gradually warms to her courtesy, friendliness and seeming lack of interest in taking control of her late husband’s property. (As it turns out, Ambrose died before revising his will, so she has no claim.)

“Rachel” is a love story, but one studded with all sorts of caveats and concerns.  Philip finds himself falling for Rachel, but then he’s not exactly the most sophisticated guy when it comes to women.  Like his benefactor Ambrose, he knows zip about the fairer sex, which makes him an easy mark if Rachel is running some sort of scam.

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