The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Review: Quartet (UK Cert 12A)

Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut based on Ronald Harwood's play about a retirement home for opera singers, is the latest in several recent films who seem to be specifically aimed at the older cinema-going public. Now, I find the idea of marketing films for 'the grey pound' (as it's cynically known) rather disingenuous. Was I not supposed to be moved by Amour because I'm not an octogenarian? Am I not to empathise with the characters of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because I'm roughly half their age? Abject nonsense. Good stories and well made films about universal themes- love, loss, forgiveness, redemption- will strike a chord with anyone, regardless of age.

At Beecham House, the residents hold a gala concert every year to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi's birthday (and to raise funds for the upkeep of the house). The arrival of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) raises a few eyebrows, not least because she is the ex-wife of another resident, Reg (Tom Courtenay). Jean's admission to the home opens some old wounds, exacerbated by the suggestion that Reg and Jean- along with two other residents, Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins)- reprise their famous performance of the quartet from Rigoletto ('Bella figlia dell'amore'). But will Jean sing?

Performances are uniformally great across the board. Maggie Smith is great as the spiky old diva, shaken by her change in circumstances and having to deal with her past. The script gives her a fine line in barbed comments which Smith delivers with aplomb- plus, I think, this is the first time I've ever heard Dame Maggie drop the f-bomb! Tom Courtenay is the very model of wounded dignity as Reg finds out who the new arrival is. Their initial frosty confrontation in the church is well played and the thawing of Reg towards Jean is nicely done.

Billy Connolly is an absolute scream as Wilf, a randy old codger constantly chatting up the young female staff and even having a crack at the head doctor (a great Sheridan Smith). However, he's not just there as comic relief and acts as a confidante for Reg. Pauline Collins' performance as Cissy, a singer with an undisclosed kind of dementia, is just lovely: she sweetly witters on but can turn on a sixpence to reveal a more poignant side.

The supporting cast are also brilliant; there's been a canny move in casting a lot of older musicians and singers as the residents (a boon for the gala scenes). In particular, renowned soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones is cast as a former singer who has had a previous rivalry with Jean- and who also gives a brilliant rendition of 'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca at the gala. Michael Gambon also gives a great turn as Cedric, the gala organiser- a bumptious old luvvie with a bad memory.

As you would expect, it's also got a great soundtrack- featuring pieces by Boccherini, Puccini and Verdi, amongst others. There may be no real surprises along the way- the plot is fairly predictable- but the journey is what's more important. Heartwarming, funny and touching and well worth 98 minutes of your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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