Still scene stealing
Quartet (12A, 108 mins)
Comedy/Drama/Romance. Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy
Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith.
Director: Dustin Hoffman.
If you want a waspish one-liner delivered with impeccable timing
and venom, gift it to Dame Maggie Smith.
Almost 60 years after her first TV appearance, the award-winning
star continues to reduce grown men half her age to quivering wrecks
with delicious barbs and withering glances.
She pursed her lips with gusto as Professor McGonagall in the
Harry Potter series, brought humanity to a racist, xenophobic widow
in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and continues to scene-steal as
the imperious Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey.
Smith is armed with a plentiful supply of verbal grenades in
Quartet, a gentle comedy adapted for the screen by Ronald Harwood
from his own acclaimed stage play.
It's light and frothy fare, with a generous glaze of sentiment,
which marks an assured directorial debut for Oscar-winning actor
His film unfolds largely within Beecham House, a retirement home
for opera singers and musicians who are in the twilight of their
Run with a gentle yet firm touch by on-staff medic Dr Lucy Cogan
(Sheridan Smith), the facility heaves with eccentrics, including
luvvie Cedric (Michael Gambon), who masterminds the annual
fundraising concert attended by staff and wealthy donors.
Three of the residents - Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy
Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) - once performed Verdi's
quartet from Rigoletto as part of a celebrated quartet.
The unexpected arrival of the group's fourth member, Reg's
ex-wife Jean (Maggie Smith), sends shockwaves through Beecham
"I wanted a dignified senility - fat chance with her here," rues
Jean is embarrassed by her fall from grace to a retirement home
named after British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.
"His grandfather made laxatives," she observes tartly. "Naming a
nursing home after him is frighteningly apt."
Once Jean adjusts to the gentle ebb and flow of daily life at
the home and rebuilds bridges that were burnt to a cinder, she
rediscovers her passion for performance.
Cedric is giddy with delight.
What could be more perfect for the fundraising soiree than a
reprise of the quartet's soaring "Bella figlia dell'amore"?
Quartet is a warm, gentle hug of a comedy that never quite
escapes its stage origins.
Many scenes feel static, cocooned with chambers of the
retirement home, as characters deliver Harwood's polished dialogue
from sitting positions.
Hoffman's simple, unfussy camerawork enforces the pedestrian
The ensemble cast is excellent, from Smith's diva who "never
took less than 12 curtain calls" for her embodiment of Verdi's
Gilda, to Courtenay's bookish fuddy-duddy.
Connolly and Collins relish the opportunity to play
larger-than-life comic foils: the former with a glint in his eye as
an outrageous flirt; the latter as a wide-eyed innocent whose
forgetfulness heralds the early stages of dementia.
Like Cissy, we're unlikely to remember Quartet in the weeks to
come, but it's nevertheless a sweet and amusing diversion.
:: Swearing :: No sex :: No violence :: Rating: 6/10
To find local screenings for Quartet, click here
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