Zeffirelli's alter ego is Luca (Charlie Lucas in youth; Baird Wallace as a teenager), who is raised in Florence by Mary (Joan Plowright), the middle-aged secretary of his absentee father. Luca lives among a loose band of British and American women, nicknamed "Il Scorpioni" for their stinging wit in the shadows of Mussolini's thuggish dictatorship. Along with Mary there's Hester (Maggie Smith), a crusty ambassador's widow; Arabella (Judi Dench), a lively bohemian; lesbian archaeologist Georgie (Lily Tomlin); and Elsa (Cher), a flamboyant American who quietly finances Luca's education.
Il Scorpioni witness the rise of fascism and the dangers of resistance, weathering dictatorial custody and (in Elsa's case) falling prey to heartbreaking betrayal. But Tea with Mussolini carries little dramatic weight; you have to forgive its unfocused structure to appreciate its merits. Zeffirelli gently conveys the passage from pleasantry to wartime, and he's drawn uniformly fine performances from this seasoned cast. If the film is vaguely unsatisfying, it's only because it had the makings of greatness and settles instead for an ethereal quality of anecdotal enchantment. --Jeff Shannon
It has impeccable production values and the footage of tuscany alone is worth the price of ticket, but there is much more going on.
Zeffirelli's charcter is Luca - first played by Charlie Lucas in youth; and Baird Wallace when older. I liked the subtle reference to Romeo and Juliet that he was later to direct.
He is abandoned by his useless father who pays for an education and wants to forget about him. He is raised in Florence by Mary (Joan Plowright), the middle-aged secretary of his father but is basically shared among a band of British and American women, who adore Italian art.
A cast features Maggie Smith as the impossible British lady, an art enthusiast played by Judi Dench, a lesbian archaeologist played by Lily Tomlin, and an astonishing rich and flambouyant Elsa, played by Cher, in her best role to date.
Set against the rise of fascism, the incredible inhumanity of man, is balanced by a small group of women look after each other. Tea with Mussolini is a fine film that seems to float over the dark chasms it covers.
Grab your favorite beverage and check this film out!