The new film, “Quartet,” is sweet, sentimental and, at times, introspective. Dustin Hoffman directs the cast of first-rate, seasoned British actors in this comedy about retired musicians who reside in a senior living facility. If you’re thinking “target audience,” think again.
Beecham House, a beautiful, sprawling mansion, is located in the English countryside. It houses famous classical musicians, exclusively. The inhabitants include Wilf (Billy Connolly), baritone and loveable skirt-chaser; Cissy (Pauline Collins), a cheery, forgetful contralto; new arrival, renowned soprano and prima donna, Jean (Maggie Smith); and Reggie (Tom Courtenay), a tenor once married to Jean who’s still licking his emotional wounds. Long ago they had performed the classic production of “Rigoletto” as a quartet.
It seems Beecham House is in financial straits and, to save it, the musical octogenarians plan to put on a benefit concert; a command performance of the quartet’s “Rigoletto” will be highlighted. However, there’s a glitch when the overly haughty Jean refuses to sing. Eventually, her stubbornness predictably wanes as she puts her pride aside.
Adapted by Ronald Harwood from his stage play, “Quartet” boasts a witty script delivered by the people who do it best. And under Hoffman’s tutelage in his first role as director, the actors seem extremely comfortable in their own, somewhat saggy, skins. Hoffman comments that his film is “about living,” while Harwood observes it’s “about surviving with dignity.”
For me, “Quartet” is all about the tour de force compilation of exquisite actors who never falter with age. Connolly, Smith, Collins and Courtenay are pure joy to watch. But it’s Michael Gambon who steals the show as the caftan-clad blowhard director Cedric, who is constantly taking all of the credit. Managing to scene steal amongst such celebrated thespians is no easy task.
“Quartet” is rife with sonorous music, glorious scenery and lots of laughs. It’s a genteel ensemble piece driven by colorful characters, snappy dialogue and enduring love. Staying for the credits is imperative. It inspired two rounds of applause from the audience and was well deserved.
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