Old age is the snow of the earth; it must, through light and truth, give warmth to the seeds of youth below, protecting them and fulfilling their purpose” *
In this charming movie dirty little secrets stir up the reunion of a world-famous opera quartet when they get together for a one-off concert and are reconciled and revived by applause. Stories about redefining old age, growing old with hope, demonstrating how art illuminates life and how the human spirit remains undimmed, even when the brightest of its stars start to fade are beginning to pop up from time to time as the so-called Silent Generation and Baby Boomer generation’s both reach a point in their lives where they must decide about what happens next.
Jean Horton aka Academy Award winning British actor Maggie Smith (Dowager Downton Abbey), who used to be a ‘diva’ – an opera soloist with an ego to match, has had years of adulation and applause, which is now behind her as she arrives at a home for retired musicians in the English countryside. On Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday the ‘inmates’ plan to give a concert to raise funds for Beecham House, which is financially strapped and facing closure.
Like Jean you may be tempted to think you have reached a point in your life where you have experiences and events to share. Then suddenly you find yourself shunted sideways and the co-workers who used to support you in your career with lots of hugs and platitudes all chip in and give you a watch so that as they wave you out the door you will always have a reminder that your time has almost run out.
Jean truly believes that she ‘deserves an encore’, however she is in for a rude shock and rude awakening. Three of her former opera partners are already living ‘in house’, one of whom (Tom Courtney) she was briefly married to eons ago. They are mortified when they are confronted by her sudden and untimely arrival, taking the news particularly hard indeed.
Old grudges threaten to undermine past glories and their testy theatrical temperaments soon play havoc with the rehearsal schedule as it becomes apparent that having four of the finest singers in English operatic history together under one roof offers no guarantees that the show will go on. Thankfully it does, with delightful results.
Quartet, distributed by Paramount pictures is the directorial debut of American movie legend Dustin Hoffman himself now 75 years of age. It is all about a group of a people facing their immortality together and trying to patch up their differences in time to make the concert a huge success. When we find out the names of the splendid experienced ensemble cast assembled to bring this delicious story to fruition then we know heaven has just come a little bit closer.
The often hilarious results reminds us all that a sense of humour is the best anecdote to old age that there is. When we can learn to laugh at ourselves then surely ‘everything will be alright in the end’.
Sited on an historic 85 acre country estate Beecham (Hedsor House) is certainly a ‘house’ many people wouldn’t really mind moving into to spend their twilight years. Its grand sweeping staircase and outstanding architecture is based on ‘harmonious’ principles of design that come down to us from ancient times. It has wonderful interiors, a majestic ballroom, and a truly delicious domed Grand Hall, all of which add up to it being a most attractive place for anyone to spend the rest of their time enjoying ‘the special things in life’, while everyone else ‘looks after the little things’.
Based on a stage play of the same name, Quartet has been written by celebrated, playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (Oscar Winning The Pianist), who also adapted it for the movie. If ever there was the possibility for a combination of drama and comedy or dramedy, with the odd tune or aria or two thrown in for good measure, then you could not ever find a more wonderful scenario or setting to bring about a masterful new beginning for all our favourite character actors. They relish their roles and the splendid opportunity to reconnect. In the case of Maggie and Tom they finally learn how to communicate properly for the very first time.
Having Billy Connelly and Pauline Collins in the cast to trade ‘barbs’ ensures that levity is supplied in just the right dose and at the right time. A marvelously dotty Michael Gambon, looking suitably sensational in his very classy caftan and embroidered cap, quietly steals the show. Gambon is one of England’s most extraordinary ‘character’ actors and revels in this role. Opera diva Gwyneth Jones also tosses back a sensational Tosca aria to die for, proving she can still hold a tune and hit the high notes.
The stars in an interview about the movie said they all loved ‘Dustin’ and his direction. Having been an actor on the other side of the screen himself so many times, he understood and could easily alleviate the awkward moments actors can experience on set. This meant that they could concentrate on giving fine performances. The secret was, as revealed by Andrew Sachs who plays ‘Bobby Swanson’, Dustin ‘chose each player for who they are not who they pretend to be’ and this means they only really had to be themselves.
This splendid film was the part of the official selection for the 2012 film festivals in Toronto, London and San Sebastian. In Toronto it was given a standing ovation. It has been described in testimonials as ‘a pitch perfect comedy’ that is ‘affectionate, moving and charming’ and above all one that ‘would cheer up even the most pessimistic’ person.
Retirement living at home, in villas or villages on the ground or ‘Online’ is a subject under much review as the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomer generation finally reach a point in their lives where they must decide on what happens next. Most of them have either faced the decision to retire, or at least are rapidly coming up to it.
It’s not only a terrifying thought but also a terrifying ordeal for anyone to go through no matter how old you are, who you are, what your career has been, whatever your financial circumstances are, or where you come from. This movie will strike many chords as a review in the Los Angeles Times states the movie ‘doesn’t so much celebrate the effects of the years; rather, it unapologetically gives them their due’
A wonderful aspect of the show is that many of the supporting actors are in fact retired or veteran musicians, who are identified in the end credits. The story played out in “Quartet” proves that the obstacles and challenges of life are always better when we stand and face them, no matter how hard they may sometimes seem to be.
All the actors are very fine, as is the direction and most especially the photography. There are close contemplative shots that are deeply emotional as this fine cast play out their roles with love, humour and pathos. There’s no business like show business so let’s go on with the show…
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012
Paramount Pictures presents
A Film Directed by Dustin Hoffman
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood adapted from his 1999 stage play
Six-time Oscar® nominee and two-time winner Maggie Smith (the Harry Potter series, Downton Abbey, Gosford Park)
Double Oscar® nominee and BAFTA winner Tom Courtenay (The Dresser, Doctor Zhivago, Billy Liar)
BAFTA nominee Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown)
Oscar® nominee and BAFTA winner Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine)
Olivier Award-winning Sheridan Smith (Legally Blonde, The Musical)
Four-time BAFTA winner Michael Gambon (the Harry Potter series, Gosford Park).
Watch the Trailer online at www.quartetmovie.com.au
•Twitter – #Quartet
QUARTET © Headline Pictures (Quartet) Limited and the British Broadcasting Corporation 2012
Images courtesy Paramount arranged by
Studio 17 | 617-619 Elizabeth Street | Redfern | NSW 2016| Australia
Our QUARTET GiveAway – Double Passes to the Movie were won by Del Hargreaves, Brisbane and Damien Jones, Sydney