Quartet is one of the rare times that I went into a screening not seeing the trailer and not knowing much about the plot. The most beloved Maggie Smith stars in it and Dustin Hoffman makes his feature film debut as a director.
Quartet focuses on the retirement home in England, Beecham House, which caters to retired musicians. The house was once a manor to a wealthy gentleman, and has quite the stately grounds surrounding it. If only we could all retire in such a place. Seeing as all the residents were once successful in the musical careers, there is quite the air of competition and arrogance among some of them. The event being prepared for throughout the film is a gala to raise funds for Beecham House. Any of the residents can perform something for this special night.
The central characters in Quartet are Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins), and Reginald “Reggie” Paget (Tom Courtenay). All are opera singers who were famous when they were still performing. Cissy is somewhat special because she frequently forgets things either due to dementia or Alzheimer’s, but she is very much the comic relief along with Wilf. Thing are thrown into a tizzy of sorts when a new resident comes to Beecham, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). She used to be a great opera singer as well, and also used to be married (briefly) to Reggie. Reggie got his heart broken over the incident and can’t really stand that she is moving into his easy, lovely life at Beecham. Even more tension is brought about when it is suggested that the four of them sing their phenomenal version of Verdi’s Quartet for the gala.
Quartet is based on a play by Ronald Harwood and Harwood also wrote the screenplay. This is not a story that relies on the sets and backdrops. This is a story that could be told on a stage with nothing but actors on it. This is a film that relies heavily on the acting to make it great, and this is simply why it is a very good film. There is nothing ever so pleasant than to see great actors doing what they do best. The result is utterly fantastic.
The cast is littered with great actors and musicians. Billy Connolly in all his Scottish greatness plays a dirty rascal of sorts who is not keen on just sitting down and getting old. Michael Gambon makes a great addition to the cast as Cedric Livingston, who I can only assume is a former director or composer. He is flamboyant in his dress and bossy in his attitude, correcting people as they pronounce Cedric wrong. Maggie Smith is known to the younger generations as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films and more recently as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey. She continues to show her unrivaled acting prowess in Quartet.
It may be a struggle to get a younger audience to see a film about a retirement home. Those like me who venture out to a film like this one will be pleased. Going into this film not knowing anything about it sometimes is a benefit. The film unfolds nicely, revealing itself slowly. The film starts out with the residents of the house practicing music. Perhaps this is only a diversion in their lives. It is only when you see the car labeled Beecham House: Home for Retired Musicians does everything fall into place.
I will not hide the fact that I got a bit emotional at the ending. It is not a sad ending, although the film does deal with what happens as you reach those twilight years. It is an ending that wraps up the brilliant ride and performances that is Quartet, while showcasing the very real musical talents of other cast members.
Dustin Hoffman has hit his directorial debut out of the park with Quartet. I would ask that younger generations including mine give this film a chance. Too often we are blinded by superheroes and special effects to enjoy a film that revolves around great actors using their exceptional talents. Quartet is simply a beautiful, well-done film that deserves all the good reviews and word-of-mouth it already has accumulated.
Stay through the credits to see what a talented cast Dustin Hoffman put together for his film.
I give Quartet 4 “forbidden bottle of liquor” out of 5.