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Film review: Quartet

Yvonne Teh

 

QUARTET
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, 
Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Category: IIA

 

Old age is not for sissies. That’s what a character in Quartet states more than once in this genteel comedy-drama, whose most remarkable attribute is that it’s the directorial debut of septuagenarian actor Dustin Hoffman.

The makers of Quartet recognise that growing old is not always easy.

But the elderly residents of Beecham House, the very comfortable home for retired musicians that is the main setting for this movie, do seem to deal with it better than many other geriatric characters, including those in Michael Haneke’s Amour and Ann Hui On-wah’s Summer Snow and A Simple Life.

Sure, Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly) has an incontinence problem and Cecily “Cissy” Robson’s (Pauline Collins) memory is fading. But their physical ailments are generally played for laughs and do not get in the way of their ability to enjoy life.

While retired opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) needs a hip replacement, she experiences far greater discomfort from learning that her ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenay) is not pleased about her turning up at Beecham House.

While in their prime Wilf, Cissy, Jean and Reggie had famously sung the Bella Figlia Dell’Amore quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto. So it’s no surprise that the organiser of the home’s annual fundraising gala (played by Michael Gambon) decides to get the singing quartet to headline the event.

Wilf, Cissy and Reggie are game, but many issues need to be resolved before Jean will agree to come out of retirement to perform.

The film was shot on location in England and has a largely British cast. But there is a distinctively Hollywood feel about Quartet.

It is technically polished, has a predictable story arc and an undemanding feel-good atmosphere.

Director Hoffman has starred in his share of challenging productions, so it’s a surprise that the film he has chosen to make his directorial debut feels safe and middlebrow. But still, this is the same Hoffman who is now as likely to be associated with Meet the Fockers and its sequel as he is with classics like The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy and All the President’s Men.

The filmmakers make good use of the super-talented cast. The star quartet of Smith, Courtenay, Connolly and Collins are very watchable.

The film will surely give music enthusiasts a thrill when they discover that it possesses a lovely soundtrack, and also features cameos and supporting roles by the illustrious likes of soprano Gwyneth Jones, jazz legend Jack Honeyborne, and violinist Ita Herbert. All of these are given chances to exhibit their musical abilities to the full.

yvonne.teh@scmp.com

 

Quartet opens on May 23

 

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