Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Dustin Hoffman
Starring: Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon
If you’re feeling plagued by the overkill in coming-of-age movies of late, you might find solace in Quartet, a gentle gem of a film that focuses on people at the other end of the spectrum. Packed with the same spirit as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one of 2012s best filmic offerings, Quartet is a heart-warming story of people nearing the end of their lives and, thanks to director Dustin Hoffman, is a sparkling tale rather than a sombre one.
Starring Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins, Quartet centres on a charity funded home for retired and elderly musicians, people who’ve had exciting and colourful lives and are now living out their days in the company of people who share their love of music. With the annual concert in honour of composer Verdi’s birthday on the horizon, the celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of new resident Jean (Maggie Smith), who causes a stir amongst her fellow once-upon-a-time comrades, in particular her ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenay).
Eternal diva Jean, like many, hasn’t taken kindly to aging, nor does she wish to be reminded of the fact that she no longer possesses the qualities that made her the star she once was. When she looks in the mirror she sees a shadow of her former self, a washed-up opera singer who’s no good to anyone any more. Through Jean’s negativity towards her situation we’re given an insight into how certain personalities react to getting older, whilst the positive outlooks of her friends Wilf (Connolly) and Cissy (Collins) give life to the saying ‘you’re only as old as you feel’. The subtle romance between Jean and Reginald serves as a reminder that it’s really never too late to try something new or make amends for past indiscretions.
The dynamics between these central characters is key to the film’s success, as is the brilliance of the lead performances. Maggie Smith is fantastic as Jean, a real force to be reckoned with. She brings both vulnerability and a feisty quality to the role, which stops you from getting wrapped up in the character feeling sorry for herself. Billy Connolly is on fine form, providing most of the laughs throughout. Connolly has long proved that he’s the king of hilariously risqué one-liners that boarder on plain dirty, and the script lends itself to his humour and cheeky delivery. Courtenay and Collins complete the quartet by bringing a wisdom and comfortable on-screen presence that could only come from actors of their high calibre.
The honesty of the script is endearing, capturing the less beautiful signs of age with comedy. Director Dustin Hoffman said he wanted to create a film about the beauty of getting older, a film that captured the stories held within the lines and wrinkles on people’s faces, and that’s exactly what he’s done. It doesn’t sugar coat the ailments that affect the elderly but it doesn’t dwell on them either. Finding that balance is what makes Quartet so enjoyable to watch. Hoffman is a distinguished director, able to bring his visions to life with flair and humility, and he truly knows how to draw out the best in actors.
Whilst the scenery and cinematography are beautiful to watch, the musical score is the most important part of this film, second to the terrific cast. You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to enjoy the accompaniment, because it plays such an important role in the story. It’s almost a character itself.
Quartet is a charming film, simultaneously poignant, uplifting and graceful in its portrayal of human beings fighting against, and accepting, age. The BBC has done itself proud with this one and whether you’re 15, 50 or 105, you’ll be able to take something hopeful away from it.