‘Quartet’ – A Review

Quartet‘ started out life as a play, and it has now been adapted for the screen by its author Ronald Harwood, expanding it only a little, so that its theatrical roots are still visible.  It’s easy to see its attractions: the directorial début of Dustin Hoffman, it is wholeheartedly aimed at the older cinema goer, with the cast filled with the familiar faces of performers now into their 60s and 70s.

It is set in Beecham House, a retirement community for musicians, where a person’s preeminence, or otherwise, on theatrical billing ‘s of the past, still dictates their seating in the dining room.  Two things may threaten the comfortable status quo: the House may be running out of money, so to avert the threat of closure the residents are planning a gala concert in honour of Verdi’s birthday as a fund raiser; and the arrival of new resident Jean, played by Maggie Smith, a former opera star, who also, unfortunately, used to be married to long term resident Reggie (Tom Courtney).  Will Reggie and Jean be reconciled, and can Jean be persuaded to sing the quartet from Rigoletto with Reggie, and Cissy (Pauline Collins) and Wilf (Billy Connelly), to reprise a famous performance the four of them gave early in their careers?

That’s about it as far as plot is concerned, so there can be a feeling that not very much happens during the film; and there is no attempt to avoid the stereotypes of old age, the forgetful, the dippy, the bad tempered, the old goat making inappropriate suggestions to young women, the poorly, but before you dismiss it out of hand, it is not without its moments.  Tom Courtney’s performance takes it beyond the ordinary; the expression on his face when he discovers that the woman who broke his heart has just moved in brought a tear to this cynical yet sentimental eye.  And there was a recognisable reality to a short scene in which Michael Gambon, as the flamboyant pompous director of the concert, berates those around him for their inability to remind him of something he had said a few minutes before.

The final credits have a lot of charm, showing photographs of the performers, many of them really retired musicians, both as they were during the film and also when they were in their prime, reminding us all of the effects of time on otherwise luminous faces.

But I think the main effect the film had on me was to make me ponder how I will be living when it becomes difficult to maintain my own home.  Maybe I should club together with others who have similar interests now, so that we can know each other’s irritating idiosyncrasies and have found ways to cope with them, before it all becomes a necessity?  I’m not sure musicians would be my ideal companions, there seemed to be a bit too much screeching and scraping going on; but maybe a few nice quiet readers and writers, in a big enough house so that each could have a secluded corner…….

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