Quartet: A Review

2 Jan

Dustin Hoffmans’ directorial debut delivers a delightful comedy-drama of old age and friendships.

Quartet is a film based on the same titled play by Ronald Harwood, who is also the screen writer of this production. It boasts a stellar cast which includes Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Andrew Sachs.

Quartet starts with three elderly friends who are living in Beechams House – a luxurious retirement home for classical musicians. Billy, plays Wilf, a slightly over-the-top theatrical gent with an eye for the ladies, Tom plays Reggie, a quiet, proud or stubborn man and Pauline steals the show as Cissy, who appears slightly eccentric until you realise that she is experiencing the early onset of dementia. All three once performed Verdi’s quartet from Rigoletto as part of a celebrated Quartet and the harmony of their friendship is stirred with the expected arrival of Reggies ex-wife, Jean, who was the fourth member.

We see all the residents singing, performing and playing their musical instruments in rehearsals for a fund raising gala concert, which would prevent what appears to be the imminent closure of the Home. Cedric (Michael  Gambon), a luvvie director who has grand ambitions even in his dotage, decides that with the arrival of Jean, it would boost ticket sales and the Home would receive more publicity.  Wilf and Cissy are quite keen on the idea but Reggie who still appears wounded by the love he lost and is clearly not impressed with the idea. But it is left to Cissy to persuade him otherwise. The three then attempt to encourage Jean (an operatic Diva played magnificently by Maggie Smith like a well worn suit) to take part, who believes herself to beyond reproach for the break up of her marriage and the end of her singing career. Cissy remains as thoughtful, sensitive and playful as ever towards Jean, but a kind gesture is rebuked which leads to an accident and apologies from Jean. This leads to discord amongst the residents and staff towards Jean, who realises a number of things. This includes coming-to-terms with who she is today and acceptance of the fact she is getting old. She then finally accepts the invitation to reunite with her friends for one historic reunion.

This film deliberately appears to hold onto its theatrical origins, and to add authenticity to some of it scenes, Mr Hoffman used real life singers and musicians who had varied theatrical, musical and operatic backgrounds. Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this is a very genteel, thought-provoking film about loyalty, friendship, old ties and lost loves, betrayal and a bygone era. It also seems to raise the issue of old age and what it means to be an elderly person in a residential/nursing home. The playwright and the  directors’ observations on  issues such as dignity and respect, dementia, behaviour, languages used, relationships with staff appear spot on. Sheridan Smith as Dr Lucy Cogan gets a mention here as her underplayed  role carried the sensitivity, charm and charisma as required for the woman in charge of a large nursing home full of larger than life characters and her short speech just before the curtain went up on the concert appeared genuinely sincere and emotional.

The ending was similar to The Full Monty in that we see the main actors on stage facing the audience but never actually get to see them perform as a Quartet. We simply hear the operatics in the background as the camera pans  on an external shot of the Home.

This film is a timely reminder of what it means to grow old without being too schmaltzy and corny.. With all the stars being over 70, it seems that one of the subtexts is to encourage the older generation to remain active in their daily lives for as long as possible.

Warmth emanates from all the performers and you can almost  see how they enjoyed the camaraderie and laughs with some of the sharp, dry one-liners. Quartet is a homely and cosy, a warm cooked supper on a cold, winters night.

The Learned Kat

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