It must be considered an act of serendipity when all the right people get together to make a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Such a case is Quartet. Based on a play by Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood, Quartet is set in a retirement home for musicians, located in what must be one of the loveliest spots in the English countryside. Most of the musicians are classical, many of them opera singers, and there are a couple of aged vaudevillians in there as well. It’s getting close to the annual fund raising gala which helps fund the facility. The name attraction has had to step down due to ill health, which puts a crimp in their style. But the arrival of a new resident, a grand Diva with worldwide fame, may be their hope for a record-breaking fundraiser, which is dedicated to Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi.
Heading the terrific cast is Maggie Smith as the aging Diva who hasn’t sung in years because she’s afraid to sing again. She was once a cast member in a legendary performance of “Rigoletto” in which she and three others performed the famed quartet in that opera. The other three are already residents of Beecham House, but the reunion is rocky at best, as Smith’s character, Jean, was once married to Tom Courtenay’s Reggie, who has been nursing a wounded heart for decades. Courtenay was one of British cinemas angry young men in the sixties, most noted for dramatic turns in such films as The Loneliness Of A Long Distance Runner, Dr. Zhivago, and another Harwood scribed film The Dresser. Here is more relaxed and at times quite funny.
Pauline Collins, Oscar nominated for Shirley Valentine, is splendid at Sissy, who means no harm to anyone, but is in failing health. The rascal of the bunch is Wilf, played by Billy Connolly. Conolly has made a career of playing loveable Scottish rogues, and is at the top of his game in Quartet.
In addition to the cast and screenwriter, the photography by John De Borman is excellent, and takes every opportunity to open up the stage version of this tale by taking advantage of the gorgeous countryside. Composer Dario Marianelli, who won his gold statue a couple of weeks ago for Anna Karenina, adds nice touches of original music amongst the classical pieces heard in the film.
In fact this film is so good, my only complaint is for the director, Dustin Hoffman. I can only say to Mr. Hoffman, what took you so long to get behind the camera? You obviously learned a lot from your distinguished acting career, but you waited until age 75 to step up to the plate and hit a slam dunk through the goal posts… to royally mix a metaphor. Here’s hoping you don’t wait another 75 years to direct again.
And before you purchase your ticket to Quartet, you must solemnly promise to stay in your seat when the credits begin to roll. The written credits scroll on the left side of the screen, while over on the right side there are photos of the real musicians as they appear in the film, side by side with photos of them from their peak period in music. It’s quite moving to know that all these talented people participated in the film as actors and weren’t faking the musical scenes.
Quartet is a charming mixture of sad, funny, real life and artistic egos. It is quite simply one of the best films I’ve seen in months.
The PG-13 rated Quartet is now showing at the Mariemont Theatre and at several plexes around town.