Franco Zeffirelli has assembled a delightful ensemble of drawing room eccentricsfor "Tea With Mussolini," his semi-autobiographical ode to hischildhood in fascist-era Italy.
The channel for his relatively light story of patriotism,war and personal independence is an orphan named Luca (7-year-old rookieCharlie Lucas), who drifts in and out of the lives of a resolute gaggleof oddball expatriate English women sipping tea in Florence as despotismrises around them.
The cast is made up of the acting profession's classiestold broads. Joan Plowright ("Enchanted April," "101Dalmatians"), does the wise, cookies-and-milkgranny type she's become associated with in recent years. The wonderfulMaggie Smith ("A Room With a View," "TheFirst Wives Club"), plays an autocraticaristocrat who blinds herself to the madness of Mussolini's politics outof a erroneously presumed friendship with the dictator. The even more wonderfulJudi Dench (Oscar winner for "Shakespeare In Love") is an aspiring painter with apenchant for "restoring" local frescoes, volunteering her meagerabilities with the brush.
They're joined in helping raise the boy by two "vulgarAmericans" -- Cher, playing a nouveau riche flamboyant with a loudcouture wardrobe and an even louder mouth, and Lily Tomlin as an irreverentlywitty, blatantly butch, cigar-chomping archeologist -- who can't help butsteal every scene they're in from their demure British counterparts.
Zeffirelli employs a lot of canned, "Masterpiece Theatre"sentimentality and the film seems at time little more than aimless wartimenostalgia. That is, until the women are placed under house arrest and Luca,now a teenager played by another newcomer Baird Wallace, joins the resistanceand starts smuggling Jews out of Italy.
But the writer-director's sense of time and place are impeccable(Italy itself is practically a character) and the performances he commandsbrilliant, with special commendation to the remarkable range of emotionand humor shown by Cher, who looks 100-percent period in finger-waved hair,and to Tomlin, who gives the best performance of her career
Run time: 117 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th May 1999
Distributed by: MGM/UA
Production compaines: Cattleya, Cineritmo, Film and General Productions, Medusa Produzione
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 12
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
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