Film review: QuartetBy Kim Francis
January 09, 2013
It was British thespian Tom Courtenay who was responsible for bringing Ronald Harwood’s play Quartet to the attention of Dustin Hoffman.
After persuading his long-time playwright friend to turn it into a screenplay, it was eventually suggested to Hoffman as a fitting directorial debut.
The living acting legend clutched at the opportunity with both septuagenarian hands, casting Courtenay in the process.
About a group of retired classical musicians and opera singers living in a swanky retirement home, Quartet follows the residents as they prepare for their annual concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday.
When proceedings are disrupted by the arrival of former grande dame of the opera Jean (Maggie Smith) the finely balanced equilibrium is upset and the residents find themselves having to deal with some unfinished business at the same time as coming to terms with the way things are.
A burgeoning sub-genre, character driven pieces focusing on people in their twilight years are hugely important in an era and culture that places increasing emphasis on youth and the young.
Making the ‘invisible’ highly visible seems to be Hoffman’s aim – and in this vein, he goes a step further by employing a cast of retired musicians, actors and singers to make up the numbers and add authenticity.
Hoffman’s wonderful cast also includes the marvellous Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins and Andrew Sachs, and they all produce watchable performances. Connolly in particular is a treat as the dapper silver-haired Lothario oozing sexagenarian sex appeal.
Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet is a shade patronising to the older generation, suggesting as it does that old folk are plagued by sadness and regret, and yearn for youth, but at the same time, it’s great to see a love story featuring seventy-somethings.
The film does, however, alienate large swathes of its audience.
With a focus on upper-middle class characters, it’s not easy to identify or sympathise with this assembled group of ex-opera stars since they frequently come across as egocentric, attention-seeking and competitive, and as having had little experience of hard times or, indeed, real life.
A so-so effort from the directing debutant, with Hoffman’s diverse career and acting pedigree audiences ultimately would probably like to see something a little meatier for his next foray behind the lens.