Take four extraordinary women, sit them in a garden and get them to shoot the breeze for an afternoon, and you get this absolute diamond of a film
Nothing Like A Dame, Saturday 2 June, 9pm, BBC Two/HD (CH 102/162). Also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer
It’s no surprise that with 18 BAFTAs and three Oscars between them, and a combined age of 337, these women have a few stories to tell. But nothing will prepare you for what’s in store.
Dames Judi Dench (Skyfall), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Eileen Atkins (The Crown) and Joan Plowright (The Spiderwick Chronicles) reflect on their years in showbiz – from cutting their teeth at the Edinburgh Festival to starring in big-screen blockbusters. Sharing a screen for the first time in their careers (although all but Atkins appeared in the 1999 film Tea With Mussolini), the actors converse outside the home that Plowright once shared with her late husband, Sir Laurence Olivier. While the concept sounds a bit twee – four octogenarians having a chat in a lovely garden – it’s anything but.
Hysterical moments include: the ladies ribbing Dench for getting all the good roles; Smith’s resentment of her international fame as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey; Dench’s response to a teenage paramedic who, after she was stung on the bottom by a hornet, asked if she had a carer (“I’ve just done eight weeks in The Winter’s Tale at The Garrick”); and Dench reminiscing about the time she and Vanessa Redgrave protested against the Vietnam War in Trafalgar Square in the 1960s (“Vanessa got arrested and remembered she had a matinee”).
Roger Michell, the man behind Notting Hill, directs. And when we say "directs", we mean "attempts to steer the conversation only to be told where to go by these screen titans". Ladies, we salute you.
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