Joyful, if formulaic, drama from Dustin Hoffman
Set in the fictional Beecham House, an opulent home for retired musicians, Quartet is the directorial debut from Dustin Hoffman. Studded with vintage stars, it’s joyful if formulaic matinee fare, like a posh, apolitical Brassed Off. It’s based on the play by Ronald Harwood who has adapted his work for the screen. Harwood’s original inspiration came from a similar retirement home in Milan, established by Giuseppe Verdi and immortalised in the documentary Tosca’s Kiss.
Quartet follows the residents of Beecham House as they prepare for their annual gala concert, intended to generate much-needed funds for the home: Billy Connolly is a hoot as the incorrigible Wilf, who claims his stroke has left him unable to censor himself; Pauline Collins is the sweet, dotty Cissy; Tom Courtenay the heartbroken Reggie. Maggie Smith puts a pin in their tranquility as new arrival Jean, Reggie’s ex-wife and the fourth member of their operatic quartet.
Quartet is nicely cast - other key players include Michael Gambon, and Sheridan Smith as the resident doctor. It’s been a while since we’ve seen such vulnerability from Maggie Smith and Quartet tugs confidently on the heart strings with the residents’ fragile health and painful memories. Yet it does strike several bum notes: despite the charitable nature of the set-up, the surroundings are so absurdly plush that it hardly gives the impression of a facility on the brink of closure (and in fact indicates that they could easily save a few quid). Overall though it’s polished enough entertainment with a few cheeky laughs, but odd that Hoffman, once a leading light of the groundbreaking New Hollywood cinema, should make a film so safe and peculiarly British.
Showing at London Film Festival Mon 15 Oct and Sat 20 Oct. General release in Jan 2013.