I haven’t been to the movies since seeing “Dames” a couple of weeks back (more on that in a moment), and now the school holidays are on, so no movies fit for adults for a while. But I have seen a few things lately that merit a few comments, so here goes.
“Dames” of course refers to the movie “Tea with the Dames” – actually more of a documentary than a traditional movie. I don’t know who thought up the idea of getting Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Eileen Atkins together in the one spot and interviewing them as a group, with the cameras turned on, but it works fine. The “Dames” of the title refers to the fact that all four have been created Dames for their services to theatre over many decades.
They all started their careers more or less in the 1950s and have been going ever since. This film is a warm, delightful, witty, and occasionally sad collection of reminiscences from The Four. Of course, they are now all old ladies – indeed I was quite surprised to discover that Joan Plowright was still alive, although she seems to have lost most of her sight – so hearing aid jokes and rueful lapses of memory occasionally happen. However, for the most part, they are sharp, alert, and delightful company for the movie- goer.
Directed by accomplished British filmmaker Roger Michell, “Tea with the Dames” also includes archival footage of the four actors at various stages in their earlier, younger careers. Oh how beautiful and comely youth is! This historical footage is almost worth the price of admission alone.
I was interested to note that the majority of the ladies’ recollections were of their stage careers, rather than their movie careers. The stage seems to have left a much deeper impression on their memories than the world of film.
The Four appear to get along very well, although they direct several gentle, but I think humorous, barbs at Judi Dench for the extra fame she has latterly found in movies: Joan Plowright laments that her American agent at one stage promised to find her cameo parts, if Judi Dench didn’t already have her paws all over them! At one point, they are asked to talk about working with their husbands (several of them were married at various stages to working actors). Some seconds go by and no one speaks. Finally one of The Four says, archly, what a deadly silence that was!
All in all, the film is a delightful 84 minutes spent with four delightful, iconic women. This film will probably appeal mainly to people with a deep interest in the history of British theatre and film, but anyone who knows the work of these four will find it thoroughly entertaining.
There was only one technical lapse that vaguely annoyed me. Off-camera, a male voice (presumably the director) suggests topics The Four might discuss next. Okay, but they didn’t give him a microphone. So his directions/suggestions are muffled and almost inaudible in the background. You have to really strain to hear him. He should have been given his own microphone, since his guidance really sets the tone and direction of this otherwise excellent documentary.
Four stars from me.
Lately, I have subscribed to Netflix. Now, as those of you who subscribe to the Australian version of Netflix know, Netflix offerings are a mixed bag: some, like “The Crown”, are superb. Others (no names) are pretty ordinary. I recently came across a six-part, Australian TV series called “Secret City”. A murder/espionage/political thriller, it was made for and screened by Foxtel a couple of years back. Now it is on Netflix. Based on novels by Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis, the story is set and filmed in Canberra. It has enough twists and betrayals in it to satisfy the most demanding John Le Carre fan.
America and China are sparring in the South China Sea. The US wants Australian naval support. The Australian Cabinet is split; one faction led by the Attorney General (played by veteran actor Jacki Weaver) wants to support the Americans. The other faction led by the Defence Minister (played by Daniel Wyllie) favours non-intervention. Is the Defence Minister a Chinese stooge? At the same time, anti-Chinese dissident students from the ANU start turning up dead or they disappear. Also, an Australian girl student is locked up in China for “Free Tibet” activities. But what is this student’s connection to Australian Intelligence? Is a dark, deeper conspiracy afoot? Harriet Dunkley (played by Anna Torv), a political journalist for a national newspaper, starts investigating. She has contacts in the AFP and the intelligence services who feed her snippets of information – but are they to be trusted? As Anna starts unravelling these interlocking mysteries, her friends start getting killed and her own life is threatened. Nothing is as it seems, allies can be traitors, and help can come from the most unexpected quarters. Harriet needs all the help she can get.
I binged this six-part series. It’s very good. The story is not wrapped up in the sixth episode, and according to Internet gossip, a second series is being filmed this year (2018). Canberra (usually the most innocent -looking of towns) has never looked so sinister. Good to see so many Chinese-Australian actors in meaty roles – though I couldn’t help wondering what the Chinese government thought of it all, seeing it is one of the villains in this show. I don’t remember any fuss from Beijing about this series, but then I didn’t even know “Secret City” existed until a week ago!
Personally, I can’t wait for the second series: can poor Harriet extract herself from the disastrous pickle she is in at the end of episode six? If you like a good political thriller with lots of murder and espionage thrown in, this one is for you.
Another four stars from me.
Last, but by no means least, we come to a little gem of an Australian movie that I never knew existed, until I caught it by accident on commercial TV a few days ago. Called “Goddess”, it was released five years ago, was directed by Mark Lamprell, based on an original stage show written by Joanna Weinberg, who also co-wrote the film with the director. It also happens to be a musical, and a very entertaining one too.
Elspeth (played by Laura Michelle Kelly, who I have never come across before) lives on a Tasmanian farm with two appalling young kids, while her husband James (played very nicely by well-known singer Ronan Keating) is an environmentalist who sails the Antarctic seas saving whales. He is away for long periods and his wife is bored and fed up. To relieve her monotony, she goes on the Internet and starts her own YouTube-style show, singing despairing and satirical songs which she writes herself, about housework. Much to her surprise her show becomes an international hit. She is head-hunted by a major advertising company, headed by ruthless corporate CEO Cassandra, played by well-known comedienne Magda Szubanski. Cassandra shows Elspeth the way to world fame and riches, but hubby James gets very jealous. Elspeth must find a way to reconcile her marriage and career, or else give up one or the other. The resulting struggle is both funny, warm, and sometimes bitingly satirical.
As I said earlier, this is a movie musical. All the songs, mainly sung by Laura Michelle Kelly but with one number contributed by Ronan Keating, are generally catchy, tuneful, with highly enjoyable and humorous lyrics. For me, the two child actors who played Elspeth’s appalling children quite stole every scene they were in. They are hilariously horrible. Excellent acting from them!
Filmed partly in Tasmania and partly in Sydney, I found this movie a very likeable and enjoyable piece of Australian musical cinema. For you fans of movie musicals, this one should not disappoint.
Also four stars from me.