7 out of 10
Release Date: 1st January 2013
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Cast: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Sheridan Smith, Andrew Sachs, Gwyneth Jones, Trevor Peacock, David Ryall, Michael Byrne, Jumayne Hunter, Ronnie Fox and Michael Gambon
Writer: Ronald Harwood
PROOF READ & EDIT DUE: Dustin Hoffman‘s directorial debut is a pleasant surprise. From the trailer it looked like one of those terribly broad UK comedies built for Americans or the Laura Ashley set who have been left twiddling their thumbs ever since Merchant Ivory vacated their comfortable spot at the top of the BritPic game. Happily reporting a nice and even comedy with a good balance of subtle comedy and laugh out loud moments. Hoffman also seems to have mastered the Robert Altman / 70s French Cinema style of showing life as it happens and masters a series of brilliant scenes in which lots of characters are vying for attention, whilst care staff mill around, other characters re-tuning instruments or doing vocal warm ups. He successfully sets the scene for the shenanigans to follow and there’s never a dull moment in Quartet. It is predictable though, but like I always say, originality isn’t the be all and end all and it certainly doesn’t matter in this film.
Quartet largely takes place in and around the grounds of Beecham Hall, a retirement home for famous musicians. Three members of a famous opera quartet are about to joined unexpectedly by the unpopular fourth member. Maggie Smith (SISTER ACT) plays Jean Horton, former wife of resident Reginald Paget (TOM COURTENAY – DR ZHIVAGO) and former co-star of Cissie (JOAN COLLINS – SHIRLEY VALENTINE) and Wilf (BILLY CONNOLLY – X FILES 2) and her arrival at Beecham Hall causes waves. Her appearance largely upsets Reginald who is still holding a grudge against her years after their marriage broke down. The patriarch of the home, Cecil (MICHAEL GAMBON – THE KING’S SPEECH) is keen to re-assemble the famous quartet to re-create a famous opera from their heyday (the name of the piece escapes me!) So obstacles have to be overcome, tempers flare, brains get be-fuddled and all of this is piled on top of the day to day madness of growing old. Horny old badger, Wilf is always chasing after the house manager, Dr Cogan (SHERIDAN SMITH – TOWER BLOCK) to amusing effect. Cissie is the comedy alzheimer’s sufferer. It’s only occasionally that her condition is taken seriously. Most of the time it’s treated like a personality trait by the fellow residents, who care for and love her ways. I suppose this is how a person as exuberant but afflicted as this would be treated in the main. She is in a safe environment, so this limits the harm she can do to herself and maybe others. Pauline Collins‘ performance doesn’t grate and she is perfect for the role. Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay are called upon to do the lion’s share of the serious acting. Smith in particular shines in an initially brittle role that is just dying to open up and show what a kind person she can be. The love and respect between her and Courtenay’s character is convincing and a big reason why the story succeeds. What could have been corny and really broad, has turned out to be realistic and a great example of commercial UK cinema. I was afraid that Billy Connolly would overturn the show with a larger than life performance but he also fit in perfectly. I’ve met people like his character and they do genuinely light up the room when they walk in and cut through all the politics and bull sh*t with a witty put down or a line to get the stuffier element sniffing loudly. The music is tastefully placed too. The cinematography is wonderful too, the early morning shots in particular of the house.
Small gaffs like planks under the leaves, when the actors are on walks in the woods are really obvious and it’s clear that there were some pick up shots done in the summer, because the trees pick and drop leaves from scene to scene. Oops. But this wouldn’t be a British movie (large or small budget) without about 10 continuity errors every ten minutes. I was quite thankful however that we weren’t subjected to the titular quartet miming to opera at the end. We are left to listen to the performance from the outside the house. Small mercy and a good exercise in taste that could have tilted the film into corn at the last minute.
7 out of 10 – Quartet is a good comedy for the older set. Ample humour and pathos. It’s really this year’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The acting from the main four is spot on, only Michael Gambon ramps up the pantomime theatrics from the wings but he is very funny so it’s forgiven. Well, written, nicely directed and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at all. A pleasant surprise because it’s nowhere near as broad or corny as the trailer makes it out to be.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Maggie Smith: The Lady In The Van, Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, My Old Lady, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Downton Abbey (TV), Harry Potter – 1 to 8, Nanny McPhee 2, Keeping Mum, Ladies In Lavender, Gosford Park, Tea With Mussollini, Washington Square, The First Wives’ Club, Richard III (1995), The Secret Garden, Sister Act 1 & 2, Hook, A Room With a View, A Private Function, The Missionary, California Suite, Death On The Nile, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Othello (1965)
- Tom Courtenay: 45 Years, Dad’s Army, Night Train To Lisbon, Gambit (2012), Flood, The Golden Compass, Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Last Orders, Whatever Happened To Harold Smith?, The Boy From Mercury, Let Him Have It, One Day In The Life Of Dennis Denusovic, Doctor Zhivago, Billy Liar, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner
- Billy Connolly: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies, What We Did On Our Holiday, Brave (voice), Billy Connolly’s Route 66 (TV), Gulliver’s Travels (2011), X-Files 2, Garfield 2, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, The Last Samurai, Timeline, White Oleander, The Aristocrats, The Man Who Sued God, The Debt Collector, Still Crazy, Paws (voice), Mrs Brown, Muppets’ Treasure Island, Pocahontas (voice), The Big Man, The Kenny Everett Show (TV), The Secret Policeman’s Ball (TV)
- Pauline Collins: Albert Nobbs, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Paradise Road, City Of Joy, Shirley Valentine, Dr Who (TV)
- Sheridan Smith: Cilla (TV), The Harry Hill Movie, The Powder Room, Hysteria, Tower Block, How To Stop Being a Loser
- Andrew Sachs: Run For Your Wife, Coronation Street (TV), The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, Revenge Of The Pink Panther, Fawlty Towers (TV)
- Trevor Peacock: The Vicar Of Dibley (TV)
- David Ryall: The League Of Gentleman- Apocalypse, Around The World In 80 Days (2004), Blackball, Truly Madly Deeply
- Michael Byrne: Mortdecai, Diana, Outpost 2, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Apt Pupil, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – part 1, Blood – The Last Vampire, Beyond The Sea, Gangs Of New York, The Sum Of All Fears, Proof Of Life, Battlefield Earth, James Bond – Tomorrow Never Dies, Braveheart, Nostradamus (1994), Buster, Force 10 From Navarone, The Eagle Has Landed
- Ronnie Fox: The Hooligan Factory, Detective Harrigan, Traveller, Clubbed
- Jumayne Hunter: The Guvnors, Scintilla, Dom Hemingway, Borrowed Time, I Anna, Piggy, Cherry Tree Lane, Attack The Block, Eden Lake
- Eline Powell: Private Peaceful
- Patricia Loveland: Better Things
- Michael Gambon: Fortitude (TV), The King’s Speech, Harry Potter – parts 3-8, The Book Of Eli, Fantastic Mr Fox (voice), Brideshead Revisited (2008), The Good Night, The Good Shepherd, The Omen (2006), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Layer Cake, Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow, Sylvia, Open Range, The Actors, Ali G In Da House, Charlotte Gray, Gosford Park, High Heels and Low Lifes, Sleepy Hollow, The insider, Plunkett & Macleane, Dancing at Lughnasa, The Gambler, Wings Of The Dove, Mary Reilly, The Innocent Sleep, Two Deaths, Nothing Personal, A Man Of No Importance, The Browning Version (1994), Toys, Mobsters, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, A Dry White Season, The Rachel Papers, Paris By Night, The Singing Detective (TV)