Dustin Hoffman makes his film-directing debut with heart-warming ensemble comedy-drama Quartet – and it’s no surprise that he should get the best from a classy line-up of veteran British stars led by Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay.
Based on the 1999 play by Ronald Harwood, the film is set in a retirement home for opera singers that is in danger of closing. The annual fund-raising concert on Verdi’s birthday might save the day – if Smith’s haughty new arrival, world-famous diva Jean Horton, could be persuaded to take part.
But with the concert fast approaching, Jean remains aloof, despite the efforts of her long-estranged husband, Courtenay’s former tenor Reggie, and his fellow residents to win her round…
For all the references to its characters’ infirmities, Quartet delivers quite a cosy and light-hearted version of old age, but Hoffman’s deft direction and his cast’s note-perfect performances make it enormously entertaining. Smith is in typically imperious form and Courtenay is amusingly wry, and there are striking turns from Pauline Collins (the endearingly dotty Cissie) and Michael Gambon (the pompous, kaftan-wearing concert director).
But Billy Connolly comes closest to stealing the show as roguish resident Wilf, who never loses an opportunity to flirt with the home’s attractive manager (Sheridan Smith) or to come up with a droll one-liner. Maggie Smith, Courtenay, Connolly and Collins take centre stage together, however, for the film’s rousing climax – a rendition of the great quartet Verdi’s Rigoletto ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’. Make sure to linger for the credits, which feature touching photographs of the cast in their prime.
Released on Blu-ray & DVD by Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment.
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