Director: Dustin Hoffman
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith
Written by: Ronald Harwood (based on his play)
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 1st January 2013
Hollywood star Dustin Hoffman has been at the top of his game as an actor since the sixties when he made such an impressive splash with The Graduate. Double Oscar Winner, it’s surprising that he has taken so long to made his debut as a director. What’s even more surprising is that he should make it with a quintessential British comedy drama such as Quartet. He doesn’t do too bad either.
Beecham House is a retirement home for talented musicians and singers who have found the golden years a little too hard for them. Each year, to help raise money to save the home, the residents put on a concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday. Egomaniac director, Cedric, is struggling to find a finale when his lead tenor is taken ill. The usually serene routines of the residents are interrupted by the arrival of Jean, a former Opera star who was married to Reginald, another resident who was heartbroken by her and refuses to have anything to do with her. Cedric, however, wants Jean to reproduce the Quartet that she, Reginald and ladies’ man Wilf and sweet-natured dementia sufferer Cissy once famously performed.
Based on his stage play, Ronald Harwood screenplay is a simple affair that doesn’t have any fancy tricks or complicated plot twists, so as a director it doesn’t really push Hoffman too much. In fact, with the talented cast that he has working for him, it really does seem like a walk in the park. Just point the camera and let his actors do the work.
The cast is the crème of British talent who have taken on similar stories in their past so they know what works and what doesn’t. As the gentle Reginald, Tom Courtney is perfectly suited. A gent through and through, he quietly underplays every scene and it compliments his fellow actors. Billy Connolly brings his comic talent to Wilf, the ageing Lathario with an eye for the ladies, no matter how young.
Stage sensation Sheridan Smith holds her own as the house doctor while Michael Gambon uses his theatrical talents as Cedric and gives a larger than life comedic performance. The film, however, belongs to the ladies. Pauline Collins, who was so good in Shirley Valentine but has never really been given the opportunity to shine, is handed a dream part as the loveable yet confused Cissy. Never going too far with the dementia, she is totally believable and sympathetic while bringing a gentle humour to the part.
Then there’s Maggie Smith. Ever since becoming the ultimate scene stealer in Downton Abbey, she hasn’t disappointed. In her previous film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, among other British theatrical heavy-weights, she stole the limelight and she does it again here. In the role of Jean, she is moving incredibly moving as a woman forced to face the fact she is getting old and the humiliation of living in a retirement home, while at the same time pulling out the same bitingly witty one-liners that she has now become an expert at delivering.
This is a whimsical little comedy drama that does exactly what you are expecting. It isn’t violent, or vulgar (although there is the odd blue word), it’s the kind of film you could sit with your family on a Sunday afternoon and smile throughout. If you were a fan of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, then this will be right up your alley. Simple, pleasant and just really, really nice.