Nothing Like a Dame

 

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A welcome cinema invasion by a work intended for home screens.

 
Nothing Like a Dame  

Dames Maggie, Joan, Eileen and Judi

 

Made for television, this piece brings together four truly great Dames honoured for Services to Drama. In due course it will be shown on BBC2 but the drawing power of Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith is such that Nothing Like a Dame is receiving a special nationwide cinema premiere on 2nd May followed by further screenings around the country from 4th May onwards. Directed by Roger Michell, it is not in the real sense of the term a film but a television programme recording a weekend gathering of these four friends and it is on those terms that it asks to be judged.

 

It is, of course, the case that these actresses have had such long and distinguished careers that each one of them would deserve a long interview programme to themselves. The project being undertaken here, however, is less ambitious but in its own way no less attractive. Filming was done in Sussex at the home of Joan Plowright and not in a studio yet this is akin to one of the old BBC chat shows from the days when the talk was serious and well-informed. Nothing Like a DameThere is no Michael Parkinson to act as host, but an off-screen voice - probably Michell himself - asks questions or suggests a topic. Such prompting has its uses but the four subjects, chatting together and making a group even more illustrious than those who assembled for an evening with Parkinson, are full of anecdotes and reflections that flow naturally.

 

As one would expect, the comments are interspersed with relevant old footage from films, TV plays, personal photographs and even on occasion past television interviews. Just now and again there are surprises: a recollection of a little known musical by Vivian Ellis, unexpected material featuring the spy Kim Philby and just one moment of poignancy in looking back when Dame Maggie Smith declares, “That’s what it was all about in those days - the children.” Talk about Laurence Olivier is franker than one might expect (the extent to which that great actor could be difficult and the fear that he engendered in his fellow artists at the National theatre are properly acknowledged). This is engaging stuff and sufficiently so for it not to matter that there is no real shape or structure to the piece. The one real drawback is that in the last few minutes it meanders on with unnecessary montage sequences and extra bits and pieces: it would have been so much better had a succinct conclusion left the viewer wanting more. However, the misjudgment here is too minor a fault to reduce my rating for what is on its own terms a thoroughly pleasing work.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, Dame Maggie Smith.

 

Dir Roger Michell, Pro Sally Angel and Karen Steyn, Ph Eben Bolter, Ed Joanna Crickmay.

 

Field Day Productions/BBC Arena/Kew Film Media-Picturehouse Entertainment.
84 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 2 May 2018. Cert. 12A.