When the name Dustin Hoffman appeared on the director’s chair of Quartet it’s hard not to be interested in what the acting titan could bring out of this ensemble, forced together to recreate a shining moment from their past.
At a home for retired opera singers the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday gets an idea to reunite a famous quartet when eternal diva Jean (Maggie Smith) becomes a resident alongside her former husband Reg (Tom Courtenay) and colleagues Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins).
Hoffman’s lens adores his performers. His debut lavishes his two leads Courtenay and Smith with key dramatic and cinematic spaces to shine. He has crafted his characters well within the range of his performers so that they feel authentic. His authorial presence is felt most in the introspective moments where the aging actor’s own journey was projected through these actors.
Ronald Harwood’s script (adapted from his play) does have some significant and lethargic pacing especially surrounding the financial burdens of the home. And yet the magic scene where Courtenay’s teaching a batch of young British kids about opera resonates so powerfully in the flat plateau in the middle of the film that this reviewer was screaming – more of THAT please. Unfortunately the scenes full of of ancillary characters diluted the best moments.
Smith is simply wonderful and although she’s memorable as a witch (Harry Potter) or a racist old biddy (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) Jean really suited her regal presence. Courtenay does a tremendous job being placed back into the shadow of his former bride. Collins’ Cissy conveys that slippery slope of dementia with an authentic concealment that surprises. Connolly is a highlight as the ‘dirty old man’ of the piece. His mellifluous brogue allows him to get away with saying anything.
Quartet is an entertaining character study of artists in their twilight years and their trials to gracefully perform until their curtain call.