Quartet is a beautiful take on a familiar tale
Directed by Dustin Hoffman. Starring Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly. Rated PG.
The foursome of the title starts with three English singers, each suffering from problems with aging. Rascally Wilf (Billy Connolly) is determined not to let a recent stroke dampen his reputation as the randiest lad at the lovingly upholstered Beecham House. Ditzy Cissy (Pauline Collins) has forgetful spells but keeps the place bubbling. And handsome Reginald (Tom Courtenay), who still gives music lessons to a new, multicultural generation, is busy looking forward to “a dignified senility” when his plans are interrupted by the arrival of Jean (Maggie Smith, unusually restrained), a famous diva who once was his wife.
The central tension in this familiar tale, which amounts to beautifully filmed comfort food, concerns getting these veterans to team up one more time for a showstopper from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at a gala fundraiser to save their home. As in life itself, there’s little doubt about what will happen at the end, but all the fun (and sorrow) is in getting there.
Remarkably, the nicely rounded, flawlessly acted Quartet—which also features Michael Gambon as a perpetually berobed impresario—is Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut. But it’s a return to home base for screenwriter Ronald Harwood, who made his reputation with The Dresser, a 1983 tale of the boards that also starred Courtenay. (Harwood went on to such strikingly varied fare as The Pianist, Being Julia, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.)
The material is not exactly profound, but the filmmakers’ love of their subjects is. Even more memorable than the delightfully undubbed live music is the way Hoffman lets the camera wander across the faces of the home’s buoyant members. These, the credits reveal, include the cream of British orchestral royalty—not young but still too full of sound and fury to go out quietly.