Based in part on his autobiography, director Franco Zeffirelli's Tea With Mussolini is a drama with comic accents about a group of British and American travelers on an indefinite visit to Italy in 1935, when, as one character puts it, "Mussolini was just a man who made the trains run on time." Luca (played by Charlie Lucas) is a boy living in Florence whose family situation is precarious at best; his mother has died and his father has little time for him. Fortunately, he's a welcome guest with Mary (Joan Plowright), a English woman visiting Italy to soak up European culture. Mary and her friends -- high-toned Lady Hester (Maggie Smith), pretentious Arabella (Judi Dench), American art collector Elsa (Cher) and cheerful lesbian Georgie (Lily Tomlin) -- enjoy the cultured, creative atmosphere of life in Italy, and their initial response to the rise of fascism is to arrange a polite meeting with Mussolini to make sure he and his soldiers mean well. After some time, Luca's father becomes concerned that the boy is soaking up too much British influence and enrolls him in a boarding school in Austria; by the time 1940 rolls around, situations have changed radically for everyone.