Tea with Mussolini is a movie with a comedic touch, and it depicts the life of an Italian boy/young man named Luca who is deeply involved with the lives of some British and American women living in Florence, Italy from 1935 to 1945. The story includes the rise of fascists led by Mussolini, the lives of Britons and Americans in an internment camp after Britain and America declared war on Italy, Jews being hunted, and the partisan movement, but there are few gunshots or murders, and this curious movie never loses the elegant smell of tea and biscuits. Actually, the contents of this movie may be more true than one would think because Franco Zeffirelli, who wrote the story for and directed this movie, projected his own experience onto Luca. It is said that Zeffirelli participated in anti-war activity as an anti-fascism partisan during the time of the war.
Right before World War II, in an area populated by foreigners in Florence, there is a group of British women led by Lady Hester, the widow of a diplomat who was stationed in Italy. Elsa, an American singer, is friends with the group, but the proud and old-fashioned Hester dislikes the American and nouveau-riche Elsa. Another group member Mary is a secretary for an Italian businessman; her boss wants to raise his illegitimate son Luca as a British gentleman, so he asks Mary to educate Luca. Meanwhile, since Elsa was friends with Luca’s late mother, she sets up a fund to help educate Luca. However, since Italy breaks off its ties with Great Britain and grows closer to Germany, the father changes his plan for Luca’s education, and has Luca sent to an Austrian school to learn German. Hester worries about the rise of fascism, and in order to protect Florence’s British community, she goes to meet her acquaintance Mussolini; she returns from afternoon tea with Mussolini, relieved by his words, “I’ll protect the British, no matter what happens.” However, after Italy declares war on Great Britain, the British women are sent to an internment camp.