For all the tea in Italy

By Colleen Seto

What a wonderful world. Even
in the midst of war, there is always time for tea and cookies. Tea with
Mussolini is a film that offers a unique look at the Second World War
through the eyes of an eccentric group of old English women, known as
the Scorpioni. The film is set in Florence, Italy and revolves around
a boy named Luca (Charlie Lucas/Baird Wallace), who is born out of wedlock.
After his mother dies and he is abandoned by his father; Luca is then
raised by the Scorpioni to become a “perfect English gentleman.”
The story moves through the war, as the women slowly become less welcome
in Italy, yet refuse to return to England. They are imprisoned eventually,
yet strive to maintain their lifestyle in this new environment (hence
the tea).

While slightly contrived and overly idealistic, the movie doesn’t
focus on the hardships of war. It avoids scenes of violence and terror,
and instead draws your attention to the strong spirits of the women.

The cast of Tea with Mussolini includes Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie
Smith and Lily Tomlin. Smith brings out the film’s humour in a particularly
enjoyable showing as Lady Hester. Cher shines as Elsa, the American art
collector whose habit of marrying rich, dying men seems a little too modern
for the 1930-40 setting. As usual, Cher is just a bit ahead of her
time. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a film starring older actresses;
a concept that seems harder to come by.

One difficulty with the film is that it’s supposed to be a coming-of-age
tale about Luca and his struggle for independence. However, the film focused
far more on life and the
trials of the Scorpioni and Elsa. Luca winds up being more of a supporting
character with little time to assert himself, while the women steal the
show. This didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the film, but leaves
some unanswered questions about Luca. The story doesn’t examine how
he managed to overcome his abandonment and cope with living under Italy’s
fascist regime.

If for nothing else, the film is worth checking out for its beautiful
scenery. The shots of Italy from Florence’s main square, with its
five impressive statues (including a replica of Michelangelo’s David),
Rome’s many villas and the
medieval town of San Gimignano are exquisite. In addition, the orphanage
shown in the movie is the actual orphanage where Zeffirelli spent four
years after his mother died.

Overall, Tea with Mussolini offers a poignant look at the war through
the unusual perspectives of foreign women. It is an enjoyable and quaint
film, which explores how a group of women resist the madness of war.

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