There’s an old Irish proverb that says, “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover; hard to find and lucky to have.” Watching “Nothing Like a Dame,” a conversation between stage and screen legends Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright and Dame Maggie Smith, will make you feel lucky to have these four, four leaf clovers in your life, if only for the eighty minute running time.
Director Roger Michell keeps it simple, placing his four transcendent stars in a simple setting. The Dames convene at the rural cottage Plowright built with her late husband Laurence Olivier, taking tea and champagne in the garden and on antique inside. From witty and wistful to strong and vulnerable, the four women tell stories about their lives on stage and off. They laugh about terrible reviews—“You remember the bad ones.”—dish on working with their famous husbands (all deceased)—“Obviously mine was the most difficult,” Plowright says of Olivier. “We all found him tricky,” Smith interjects.—their health—“Have we got three eyes between us all?” says Dench.—and more.
The conversation sparkles but don’t come looking for a timeline of their careers. Look instead for insight into lives lived on stage. Atkins reflects on stage fright, admitting, “On my way to the theater I would always think, ‘Would you like to be run over now, or in a massive car accident?’ And I only just about come out on the side of ‘No.’” Dench calls fear, “the petrol.” “It can be a help.”
Smith owns up to never watching “Downton Abbey,” the show she refers to it as that “wretched thing” that won her three Emmys, even though the producers gave her a box set.
Late in “Nothing Like a Dame” the quartet are asked what they have learned. “When in doubt, don’t,” Smith says after some thought. It’s that kind of documentary, a rare pleasure that succeeds on charm, wisdom and personality, and there can be no doubt about that.