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4.5 out of 5 stars
Tea With Mussolini
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178 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2000
Format: DVD
My wife insisted we watch this film - since it was not something in which I was interested (dramas and romances are not usually what I prefer to watch)I picked up a book and began reading. Within minutes, I was completely enraptured by this movie and forgot about the book. While a picture with the title TEA WITH MUSSOLINI sounds leisurely, trust me, it's not. It moves forward beautifully telling a true story of English and American women in Italy at the breakout of the war and its effect on them and the Italian child they have all raised together. This is a remarkable film (an epic in small movie disguise)with indelible performances from a perfect cast esp. Cher and Joan Plowright. Why neither they nor this film have appeared on many (if any) best of the year lists is completely mind-boggling to my wife and myself. The play is truly the thing here and director Zeffirelli has done a marvelous job telling a wonderful story (his own life)that's ultimately irristible. Filled with humor, hope and inspiration - words that usually make producers cringe these days but words that still mean the best in great moviemaking. My choice for best film of the year and one of the best of all time. A minor masterpiece. Please give it a try...I don't think you'll be disappointed if you're looking for something with great heart that has something to say about the dignity of the human spirit. Better than LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. A gem!
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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2000
Format: DVD
The film "Tea with Mussolini" deals with complex issues in such a subtle way that it is easy to dismiss if the viewer overlooks the intriquite relationships of the characters. How the characters evolve from being self-involved (their love of the arts and formalities) to becoming caring individuals and creating bonds that overcome the heirarchies of the social class structure due to race, nationality, war and a young boy that pulls them together. Luca a young Italian boy copes with having no family due to being an illigitamate child in picturesque Italy during The Second World War. Lucas mothers death and his father's refusal to take him into his care due to a wife that would not accept him lead him to find a new family with his father's secretary (Joan Plowright) and her sociatal peers The Scorpioni (The Scorpions) named for the groups sharp wit and poisonous bite. This group takes young Luca into their privliged clique and shares in the education and introduces young Luca to The Arts which is the groups passion. Little do they know that by doing this they have began on a road to self change that will alter thier view on the world, thier friendships and detestations of others in the group. This film is a story of compassion, friendship, art, family, accepatance, change, egos, jeolousy and shows the letting go of beliefs and the opening of hearts. The cast is first rate with the likes of Cher, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin and Judi Dench along with the perfect casting of the character Luca played by Baird Wallace (Luca: teenager) and Charlie Lucas (Luca: child) both of these fine young actors will grab the viewers heart and make him want to help with the caring of and the education of this heart grabbing character. Luca's troubles will affect the viewer and pull at one's heartstrings. Baird Wallace is talented young actor that holds his own and deserves praise and notice from the industry. Recomendations: Buy this film, it is a film with grit and emotions that will make you examine your own life and wish that you could have been as bleesed as Luca had.
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Format: DVD
In spite of the disastrous title and the repulsive cover picture, this is the best film Zeffirelli has made since "Romeo and Juliet." It has a nice balance of atmosphere, characterization and action. The photography and scenery alone are worth the price of admission. Missing is the magnificent music that Zeffirelli usually has in his films. Contrary to the amazon reviewer, the film is quite focused and carries with it a tension, although the tension is deliberately kept from becoming oppressive. The path of the story is not at all "predictable" with several surprising turns. There are a few laughs in the beginning, but this is a serious film.

I went back to Zeffirelli's Autobiography to re-read the passages dealing with the scorpioni. They were real, of course, but apparently this story is fictional, as are all the characters except Mary Wallace. Zeffirelli put some incidents from his own life into the movie, and the actor who played Luca bears a striking resemblance to the young Zeffirelli, but that is all. Zeffirelli was illegitimate. He lived with his mother the first few years until she died. He was then brought up by a cousin. He was accosted by his father's wife, and his father did put him to study English with one of the old English ladies of Florence, Mary O'Neill, who was fond of playing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with him. But when the scorpioni were rounded up and shipped out of Florence, Zeffirelli says (p. 24) that he never saw Mary O'Neill again. He hid out in the mountains to avoid the draft and headed south, finally meeting up with the Allied front lines. The encounter with them in the movie is more or less like the book.

I would like to have seen a little more of the scorpioni before the war hit, but I'm sure I'll be watching this movie again and again.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
What? No Oscars? It was a crime. TWM is so much more than a wonderful movie! I eagerly awaited its release, and when it flew through the theaters then disappeared, I decided I'd been saved from a dreadful error. But when my husband insistently rented the video, I was utterly mesmerized. This is absolutely the best film I have seen in years, and it proves yet again that Cher is a far better actress than a singer. And Joan Plowright -- always an exquisite treasure. Don't rent--BUY this movie. You will never regret it. You will want your children to see it.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2000
Format: DVD
Tea With Mussolini is Franco Zeffirelli's autobiographical remembrance of events of his boyhood in Italy before and during World War II. It concerns the activities of a group of expatriate ladies played wittily by Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Lily Tomlin. Zeffirelli performs his usual magic in creating exquisite visual images and intriguing characters. Watching the actions of the characters in this movie is a worthy reminder of how decent people can become so involved in their own lives and interests that they allow horrendous things to happen around them. Fortunately, for the idealistic viewer, all of the main characters "come to their senses" and are redeemed by the end of the film. It is not particularly realistic, but it makes for a wonderful "feel good" movie. The DVD is a little disappointing in that it has no extra features. I yearned to have someone talk about how the real people compared to the characters in the movie. None-the-less, this movie is a delicious treat.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
There was nothing about this movie I didn't like. I think what moved me the most, though, was the love (tired-out word, but what else is there) that a small cadre of strong, charismatic, brilliant British and American women had for a small waif of a motherless boy. All of these women had things to do other than attend to that waif, but they attended to him anyway. And they didn't just love and adore him -- they spent arduous energy helping develop his mind, his talents, morals, ethics. And when he grew older and they faced serious trouble, turnabout's fair play, and he was there for them. That's the story. And then the setting (pre-WWII Italy), acting and camerawork made the story irresistible. Who's ever assembled a finer cast of actresses?! Judi Densch, Lily Tomlin, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Cher all in one film!?! Powerful stuff!

~ Jeri Studebaker, author of Switching to Goddess: Humanity's Ticket to the Future
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Set in Florence and covering roughly 10 years from the brink of World War II to the liberation of "Il Scorpioni", Zeffirelli's film boasts a great cast: from the group of English women who love all things Italian-- Maggie Smith as Lady Hester, Judi Dench as Arabella, Joan Plowright as Mary to Lily Tomlin as Georgie, Cher as Elsa, and last but certainly not least, Baird Wallace as the older Luca based loosely on the director, himself. The group of English women will not leave Florece even in the face of an impeding war; Lady Hester, in her naivete assumes that tea with Mussolini will guarantee her and her friends' safety.
The film is a little predictable and somewhat rosy. On the other hand, If Luca is based on Zeffirelli, he obviously lived to tell his tale so perhaps this rosiness is justified. Cher seems to play Cher and isn't terribly convincing as a rich Jewish American; and her wardrobe is gaudy enough to belong to her. On the other hand, the three British actresses are great, particularly Maggie Smith who cannot abide Americans. My favorite line of hers is that Americans [referring to Elsa] can even "vulgarize" ice cream.
Of course it's impossible to make an ugly movie that's filmed in Florence; this one is no exception. (It's probably impossible for this director to make a less than beautiful movie.) While this may not be Mr. Zeffirelli's best film, it's much better than the best efforts of a lot of his contemporaries.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I've always enjoyed Franco Zeffirelli's films and opera productions and this film is no exception. This semi-autobiographical coming of age story fits so well among the usual coming of age stories of people in the arts. So many of these people have grown up with a close mothering or woman-based support system. That the child-teen here is not legitimate and has a whole clan of English and American women to raise him in Fascist-filled 1930s' and 1940s' Italy, makes him virtually predestined for a career in the arts. These women are even willing to risk their lives to preserve Italian frescoes, which only an artist would bother to recount.

The ensemble cast of women is superb. Maggie Smith has the English elitist down perfectly by this point in her career and she can be quietly hilarious playing it, especially in her misguided belief that "Il Duce" is protecting her in Italy. Cher returns to the screen in a wonderfully luminous role as a wealthy American entertainer, who is also Jewish and about to be sold to out to the Germans by her Italian boyfriend. John Mortimer co-scripted the film with Zeffirelli. Mortimer created the fictional "Rumpole of the Bailey" so he is well able to flesh out all of these eccentric English characters. It is also quite common for artists to return to childhood-adolesence when evaluating where their germination in the arts began. Both Fellini and Bergmann returned to their childhoods too in semi-autobiographical form in several of their films.

Visit my blog with link given on my profile page here or use this phonetically given URL (livingasseniors dot blogspot dot com). Friday's entry will always be weekend entertainment recs from my 5 star Amazon reviews in film, tv, books and music. These are very heavy on buried treasures and hidden gems. My blogspot is published on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Based loosely on the autobiography of the director, Franco Zeffinelli, this film is a light frothy comedy about a serious subject. It is the story of Italy in the 1930s and Mussolini's rise to power. It is also the story of the young illegitimate son of a textile merchant who gets adopted by a group of eccentric aging Englishwomen living in Florence. The delightful cast includes English Maggie Smith as a dowager grande dame who looks down her nose with disdain at everything around her, Judy Dentch as an dotty art lover, Joan Plowright as a sensible motherly type and Lily Tomlin as an a forthright lesbian. Surrounded by the art and grandeur of Florence, these ladies love Italy and refuse to believe that their lives will change under the darkening clouds of fascism. Into this mix comes Cher as the rich American ex-chorus girl who marries rich men wears beautiful outfits. I recommend this video for what it is -- a couple of hours of light and charming entertainment. Florence is beautiful, the costumes are great, the acting is good, and the war is sanitized. However, if you are looking for depth and complexity, you won't find it here.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2006
Format: DVD
When it was first released, my wife and I saw Tea with Mussolini at a small theater in our neighborhood, the Drexel East theater in Bexley. The cast was simply wonderful, bringing a multidimensional story to life, complete with a whole set of characters of depth and realism.

The movie's official tagline is, "a story of civilized disobedience," but I found myself focusing on rather a different part of the story, that of a young boy who became a man. The young boy, Luca, was the illegitimate son of an Italian businessman. With his mother dead and his father absent, Luca is raised by an Englishwoman, Mary Wallace (Joan Plowright), who is part of a group of English living it Italy just before World War II. Mary enlists help from her friends to ensure that the boy is taken care of. A wealthy American who sometimes lived among the English "Scorpioni," Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan (Cher), was a friend of Luca's mother and set up a trust for him.

Mary not only ensured that Luca was going to school and pursuing his studies, but she spent time with him, spoke with him, and instilled in him the values that would make him a proper English gentleman--apparently the only desire that his father had for him.

As Italy became increasingly aligned with Nazi Germany, the charming and peaceful existence in Florence gave way to incarceration for the Scorpioni, and a great deal of mystery surrounding Elsa. Luca was sent to an Austrian boarding school, as his father determined that Italy's future was not with England, but with Germany. After his studies, he returned to Italy, and soon found himself jealous of Elsa's Italian lover, deeply infatuated with her, and in her employ: secretly delivering documents that would allow their Jewish recipients to flee the country.

I was especially taken with the character of Mary; not only was she able to perceive what was right and wrong but she acted on it and worked good among those within her sphere of influence. Her strength, moral courage, and gentleness made quite a difference for young Luca. And he was wise enough usually to pay attention. Even after he had gone off to school and returned fully grown, Mary did not hold back from correcting him when he behaved badly. She became cross with him when his youthful jealousy blinded him; even so, in her reprimand, she offered him what he needed not just to understand that he was wrong but what he must do to correct his course. "What are your hurt feelings when there are lives at stake?"

Rather than stupidly insisting on pursuing his misstep, Luca wisely took the lesson; he not only quit complaining about being Elsa's "messenger boy" but also used the money that Elsa had years earlier put into a trust for him to help the resistance and to get Elsa to safety when her life was in danger. When the resistance asked where he got the money, he told Wilfred Random, Lady Hester's grandson, that the money was intended to help him grow up, but that it didn't help very much because he forgot the first rule of a gentleman: love thyself last. (This is a reference to Shakespeare's Henry VIII, which reminded us of a wonderful scene earlier, when Mary used Shakespeare to entertain and to teach the young boy under her guidance.)

In his corrected action, Luca set aside whatever inconvenience and heartache he had, moving beyond them, taking action intended for more than just "to feel good" or "to have fun," but to adhere to a principle that was important to him, one that was instilled, we presume, by Mary Wallace. It had an impact was both concrete and specific: it saved the life of a woman whose generosity with her fortune allowed him to be educated and raised in relative comfort. He acted well in the moment, and (as Johann Kaspar said) performed a good action to all eternity. Would that others thus behaved; what atrocities might have been avoided.

Tea With Mussolini is a delight, a story both worthy of consideration and immensely pleasurable to watch.
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