Dustin Hoffman directs this comedy drama adapted by writer Ronald Harwood from his own stage play of the same name. Beecham House is a retirement home with a difference: it specifically caters for former artistes including one-time opera singers Cissy (Pauline Collins), Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Wilf (Billy Connolly). Once part of a quartet, the three still take part in an annual concert to celebrate the birthday of composer Giuseppe Verdi. But this year things are complicated by the arrival of the fourth member of their quartet, Jean (Maggie Smith), a die-hard diva who also happens to be Reginald's ex-wife. Theatrical temperaments and old hostilities flare as the dramatic foursome fuss, flirt and flounce their way through rehearsals, adhering emphatically to that old showbiz adage, 'the show must go on'.
Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman has never been one to zig when he can zag. Not only did he wait until he was in his mid-70s to direct his first feature film, but his crowd-pleasing adaptation of Ronald Harwood's 1999 play is a thoroughly British affair. Set at one of England's most scenic estates, the fictional Beecham House for Retired Musicians, Quartet
centres on four opera singers. Cecily (Pauline Collins), Wilfred (Billy Connolly), and Reginald (Tom Courtenay, who appeared in Harwood's The Dresser
) are busy preparing for the annual Verdi Gala when word spreads about a famous new resident. After Reggie catches sight of the elegant figure, his excitement about the benefit gives way to sorrow: it's his ex-wife, Jean (Downton Abbey's
Maggie Smith). If the amusingly acid-tongued Jean appears to have moved on--she's married twice since--Reggie hasn't, and still blames her for the failure of their brief marriage. Under the directorship of the supremely self-satisfied Cedric (Michael Gambon), the entire facility continues to rehearse for the concert, except Jean, who says she's retired from singing, though her former partners long to perform their acclaimed version of Verdi's Rigoletto
. As they concentrate on persuading her to reconsider, the ice between Reggie and Jean starts to thaw just as Cissy's memory starts to fade, but priorities shift as old friends become reacquainted. If Quartet
doesn't offer many significant surprises, Hoffman skillfully honours the humour, the romance, and the wall-to-wall music--most played by veteran performers--of Harwood's warm-hearted script. --Kathleen C. Fennessy