The laughter and pure hysteria are infectious in this wildly enjoyable film. I can’t for the life of me think of any other recent documentary in which I have laughed pretty much all the way through. It is nothing more nor less than an acerbic round-table chat between four of British theatre’s most famed dames: Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith, which takes place at the country home Plowright shared with her late husband, Laurence Olivier (I seem to remember it being the site of Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show special on Olivier in the 80s).
This is basically an Avengers Infinity War of theatrical anecdotery: outrageously camp, with sensational stills and archive footage and very brisk assessment of the past – utterly unsentimental. Why is it when female stars of this calibre appear in a fiction feature together it’s always a horribly twee ordeal – when this shows they can be brutally funny?
Judi - Dench - Anecdote - Paramedic - Summer
Judi Dench has an extraordinary anecdote about being patronised by a 17-year-old paramedic last summer when she was “stung on the bum by a hornet”. She imitates this young man’s wheedling questions: “What’s our name?” “(Irritated) Judi.” “And have we got a carer?” “**** off! I’ve just done eight weeks in The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick.”
Dench also recounts her reply to Peter Hall’s request that she play Cleopatra: “Are you sure you want a menopausal dwarf?” Atkins interrupts: “That’s what she was.” “That’s how I played it.” The quartet agree that Antony and Cleopatra is very much Cleopatra’s play and the actor playing Antony is always very annoyed to discover this. Alan Bates was a key example, says one: “He actually wanted to play Cleopatra.” There’s an incredible clip of a 60s interview in which Smith says her delivery is stolen from Kenneth Williams...
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