Quartet: Joyful & Witty British Comedy-Drama
Billy ConnollyMaggie Smith...
Many would be surprised to learn that the man behind the lens of this joyous and incredibly charming British musical-drama – about a group of retired musicians reliving their glory days in an idyllic setting of a country-side retirement home – is in fact the one and only Mr. Dustin Hoffman.
So, does the Oscar-winning actor have what it takes as a director? Absolutely.
The story of Quartet takes place in Beecham House; an opulent retirement home for gifted musicians, who are busy getting themselves ready for a gala benefit concert which will fund their home and keep it from closing. Housing some of the most respected and celebrated violinists, pianists and opera singers in the business, the tranquil country-side setting is home to an abundance of egos and theatrics.
Amongst the retired opera-singers, there is Wilfred (Connolly); a skirt-chasing Romeo who keeps himself busy by coming on to anything that moves. The forgetful and soulful Cissy (Collins), who is experiencing the early stages of dementia and then there is Reggie (Courtenay); a stern and serious-looking vocalist who wishes for nothing more than ‘dignified senility’.
Their amiable and agreeable routine is soon interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Reggie’s ex-wife, Jean (Smith); a snappy and touchy diva who was once a part of who still hasn’t come to terms with the reality of ageing. The once renowned soloist is finding it hard to fit in the chirpiness of her new surroundings and is still longing for the good old days.
She’s soon forced out of her shell when her trio of long-lost friends suggest a reunion of their quartet to perform at the gala concert. However, the task is not so easy and with time running out, Jean’s temper and clashes with Reggie threaten to derail the event.
Quartet marks the first completed directorial debut for Hoffman, who previously dabbled in some behind-the-camera work in 1978’s Straight Time, before it was abandoned. At seventy-five years of age, though, Hoffman has radiantly demonstrated his directorial skills.
Written for a stage-play and later adapted to the screen by Ronald Howard, the story is pretty straightforward and never feels too boxed-in – given that most of the story plays out in the confinement of the retirement home. Quartet is easy-going, fun and extremely laid-back, managing to escape the darkness and seriousness that often accompanies the principle of sickness and aging.
Connolly is a real hoot as the randy Wilfred, providing much of the comic-relief, while Collins and Courtenay devoured their roles with cleverness and class. Gambon, who plays the controlling and eccentric conductor, is absolutely infectious and Smith, whose presence in this production provides the much-needed weightiness, stands in a class of her own.
On the whole, Quartet is polished and manages to deliver cheeky laughs with great ease. We definitely hope to see more of Hoffman who – after almost five decades in the business – finally shows that he is just as great behind the camera as he is in front of it.