With a sterling cast led by Maggie Smith and a script by playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, whose credits include The Dresser, The Pianist, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, this film comes with impeccable credentials for mature moviegoers. It also marks the directing debut of Dustin Hoffman, after 45 years in front of the camera. So what could be bad?
The answer is: nothing. The worst one can say of Quartet is that it’s slight.
Harwood’s play, now transferred to film, was inspired by a real-life retirement home in England for musicians and opera singers, many of whom appear in the picture. Smith plays an imperious diva who arrives on the scene, unaware that three of her erstwhile colleagues are living there—including dithery Pauline Collins, devilish Billy Connolly, and her ex-husband (Tom Courtenay), who still hasn’t recovered from their breakup years ago. The estimable Michael Gambon appears in a supporting role as a fellow resident who is a self-appointed (and self-important) group leader.
The setting is attractive, the actors are first-rate, and the film is as easy to take as a freshly baked scone with Devonshire cream. I wish there were a little more to it, but it’s difficult to complain about such a benign and genial film. Connolly walks away with every scene he’s in, making sure the proceedings don’t become too bland.
If you enjoy these performers you can’t go far wrong with Quartet.