Tea with Mussolini (1999) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1999|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Franco Zeffirelli|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Florence, Italy, 1935; the English ex-pat community headed by the formidable Lady Hester (Maggie Smith), widow of the ex-ambassador to Italy, are largely untroubled by the rise of the black-shirted Fascists of Mussolini; indeed Lady Hester approves of Mussolini to the same degree she loathes the Americans in Florence, rich, vulgar Jewish ex-actress Elsa (Cher) and lesbian archaeologist Georgie (Lily Tomlin). Spinster Mary (Joan Plowright), one of the poorer English ex-pat ladies, reluctantly agrees to look after Luca (Charlie Lucas), the young b****** son of her Italian employer. She teaches him English, morals and Shakespeare helped by a number of the English ladies including bohemian artist Arabella (Judi Dench). When violence erupts on the streets of Florence Lady Hester cannot believe it was orchestrated by Mussolini and she is determined to go to Rome to see him. Amazingly, Lady Hester, with her teenage son Wilfred (Paul Chequer) and English journalist Connie (Tessa Pritchard) gain an audience with the Dictator. They have tea with Mussolini (Claudio Spadaro) who gives his word to Lady Hester that no harm will come to them. But as Italy drifts closer to an alliance with Germany Luca is sent by his father to school in Austria to learn German.
In 1940 Italy declares war on Great Britain and the ex-pats become enemy aliens. They are taken from Florence and interned in San Gimignano in conditions far less salubrious than the ladies had been accustomed to. Luca (now played by Baird Wallace) returns from Austria a grown man. America is still neutral and Luca becomes a clandestine runner for Elsa, carrying passports and money for Jews wishing to escape Italy. The ex-pat ladies at this time are moved from their barracks type living quarters into a hotel and given far more freedom. Lady Hester is convinced that Mussolini has interceded on their behalf but the truth is that, unknown to the ladies, it is Elsa and her money that has paid for their new surroundings. Then, when Japan bombs Pearl Harbour and the US declares war on Germany and Italy, Elsa finds herself interned with the other ladies. Can they all stay out of the way until the Allies liberate northern Italy?
Tea with Mussolini is based upon the autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli who directed the film as well as co-wrote the screenplay with John Mortimer (who wrote the Rumpole of the Bailey stories). Zeffirelli is known for his beautiful films; he was nominated for Oscars as director of the stunning Romeo and Juliet (1968) and also for his production design of La Traviata (1982). And, indeed, in Tea with Mussolini the vision of the Italian countryside and the cities of Florence and San Gimignano, filmed by Oscar winning cinematographer David Watkins (for Out of Africa (1985)), is serenely beautiful often having a delicate soft focus. Tea with Mussolini is indeed a beautiful looking film but for some reason, and despite the impressive cast, it does not engage one as it might.
The first shorter section of Tea with Mussolini dealing with the events of 1935 is episodic in nature and clichéd in such a way that suggests that Zeffirelli, looking back over 50 years, is viewing these eccentric English ladies with a fair amount of nostalgia. The cast does what they do; Maggie Smith is the impervious widow of an ambassador with all the nose in the air mannerisms, Judi Dench, rather underused, the bohemian artist while Joan Plowright is the rock upon which the story rests, and she is excellent. Cher is the over the top vulgar American flapper and the film is all rather predictable.
The last third of the film is more intense and it includes a couple of revelations and some strong, dramatic scenes; one between Cher and Maggie Smith is beautifully written and acted. However, for most of the film the fine cast don’t really have a lot to work with.
Tea with Mussolini is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in NTSC and 16x9 enhanced.
The streets of Florence show strong detail in the cobblestones, stone and brick buildings while the set design of Mussolini’s office is amazing. The wide shots of the Italian countryside and cities are more muted and ephemeral looking, reinforcing the nostalgic feel of the film. Colours are natural, blacks and shadow detail solid, skin tones natural, brightness and contrast consistent. Other than some small speckles and a bit of blur with motion, artefacts were not evident.
English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available. In addition some, but not all, of the Italian dialogue is automatically subtitled.
Audio is a choice of English Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps or English Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 Kbps.
For most of its running time Tea with Mussolini is mainly a film of dialogue, which is clear, and there is little action except when the Black-shirts smash up shops when the rears and surrounds were utilised for voices and breaking glass. I also noticed a panning effect as the bus carrying the ladies away from Florence drove through the frame. Later when the Germans rolled through the streets (the German tanks actually being American Shermans) and the Allied tanks invaded Tuscany (these scenes of combat were taken from A Bridge Too Far (1977)) the rears featured engines, cannon fire and explosions. Other than in these sequences the sub-woofer was not used.
The score by Alessio Vlad and Stefano Arnaldi was rich and lush, suiting the visuals.
Lip synchronisation is fine.
|Surround Channel Use|
There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Tea with Mussolini has been released previously in a UK extra-less PAL version. There is also a US release listed as 1.66:1 and including a trailer, a French dub and a behind the scenes booklet if that is important.
Tea with Mussolini is Zeffirelli’s ode to growing up amid the eccentric ex-pat community in Florence immediately before and during the second world war. With its fine cast and beautiful locations – it would be hard not make the Italian countryside and stunning cities like Florence look beautiful – the film should be more engaging than it is; looking at the past through rose coloured glasses is not always as dramatic as it might be. But with the vision and cast Tea with Mussolini is well worth a look.
The video and audio are fine. A trailer is the only extra.
The Tea with Mussolini was supplied for review by ViaVision Entertainment. Check out their Facebook page for the latest releases, giveaways, deals and more.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|