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I'd seen this at the movies when it first came out, and remember being very impressed by it. It didn't quite live up to my expectations, as I thought there were a number of things left unexplained, but in general I did enjoy it.
|Joan Plowright||Mary Wallace|
|Maggie Smith||Lady Hester Random|
|Lily Tomlin||Georgie Rockwell|
|Cher||Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan|
|Paolo Seganti||Vittorio Fanfanni|
|Michael Williams||British Consul|
"A story of civilized disobedience."
The film begins in Florence, Italy in 1935, where a group of cultured expatriate English women — called by the Italians "the Scorpioni" — meet for tea every afternoon. Young Luca (Charlie Lucas) is the illegitimate son of an Italian businessman (Massimo Ghini) who shows little interest in his son's upbringing; the boy's mother, a dressmaker, has recently died. Mary Wallace (Joan Plowright), who works as the man's secretary, steps in to care for him, turning to her Scorpioni friends – including eccentric would-be artist Arabella (Judi Dench) – for support. Together, they teach Luca many lessons about life and especially the arts. Elsa Morganthal (Cher), a brash rich young American widow whom Scorpioni matron Lady Hester Random (Maggie Smith) barely tolerates, sets up a financial trust for Luca when she learns of the death of his mother, whom she was fond of and to whom Elsa still owed money for her dressmaking services.One day, when the ladies are in a restaurant for afternoon tea, it is vandalised by Fascists, reflecting the increasingly uncertain position of the expatriate community. Lady Hester, widow of Britain's former ambassador to Italy, retains an admiring faith in Benito Mussolini (Claudio Spadaro), and takes it upon herself to visit him, receiving his insincere assurances of their safety, and proudly recounting her "tea with Mussolini". But the political situation continues to deteriorate and the Scorpioni find their status and liberties diminishing. Luca's father decides that Italy's future is with Germany rather than Britain and sends Luca to an Austrian boarding school.Five years later, Luca (now played by Baird Wallace) returns to Florence with the intention of using Elsa's trust fund to study art. He finds that most British nationals are fleeing the country anticipating Mussolini's declaration of war on Great Britain and that Mary has moved in with Lady Hester and the other English hold-outs. He arrives at the house just as they (and Hester's ineffectual grandson Wilfred (Paul Chequer, disguised as a young woman for his safety) are being rounded up and put onto a transport truck, which he follows to the nearby Tuscan town of San Gimignano. Because the United States is not at war, Elsa and her American compatriot Georgie Rockwell (Lily Tomlin), an openly lesbian archaeologist, remain free. Elsa uses Luca to deliver forged orders and funds to have the ladies moved from their distressingly barracks-like quarters to an upper class hotel. Believing that Mussolini himself issued the orders, Lady Hester is delighted, proudly brandishing the newspaper photo of her tea with Il Duce.
Theatrical : 1999-05-14 : United States of America
DVD : 1999-11-16
DVD : 1999-11-23