Now available on DVD, “Quartet” stars Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, and Maggie Smith in the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman — at 77 years old. The post-, post-“Graduate” actor earns top marks in this “small” but effective film, decidedly an “actors’ movie,” one that is full of wonderful actors and musicians, most of them of a certain age.
Set in fictional Beecham House, a retirement home for English singers and musicians, the story involves the preparations for an imminent annual fund-raising gala in celebration of Verdi’s birthday. This year’s affair is crucial, since the place is threatened with closing should its patrons prove insufficiently generous. The imperious longtime director, Cedric Livingston (Gambon), is having an unusually difficult time rounding up talent, since his principals have the annoying habit of getting sick or dying.
So when former diva Jean Horton (Smith), takes up residence, she looks like a godsend. But be careful of what you wish for: not only is Jean a headstrong, egotistical diva, but she and her ex-husband and current Beecham resident, Reg (Courtenay), have a history of ill will. Seems that Jean cheated on Reg about nine hours after they were wed, and he has never forgiven her for the heartbreak. Since she and Reg, along with Cissy (Collins) and Wilf (Connolly), would perform the evening’s highlight, the famous quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” it’s crucial that they reconcile.
This being a comedy, albeit one with some sad thematic undertones concerning aging and various kinds of loss, they do get back together, though we never quite get to see the resulting triumph. Along the way to this thoroughly predictable resolution, however, we benefit from these veteran actors’ delightful realization of Ronald Harwood’s screenplay, adapted from his own stage play. Hoffman and cinematographer John de Borman take the story outside onto the beautiful grounds of Hedsor House and Park in Buckinghamshire. Dario Marianelli’s original score and recordings, which run the gamut from rap to music hall to Bach and Mozart infuse the scenes with music deftly chosen for the mood and the moment in the script. Stick around for the closing credits, which show many of the supporting cast in their salad days, a touching tribute to their manifold talents.
Rated “PG-13” for language and some comic sexual suggestiveness, “Quartet” did not make much money in its theatrical release: it might be hard to find at your favorite DVD outlet. It’s not a requirement that you be on Medicare to enjoy it, though those who are will get some jokes that the less grey-haired will not. In any case, this movie gives me hope that, as my generation ages, more movies like “Quartet” will be made for us and with stars like those featured here.