Review: 'Quartet' has a winning, classy charm
This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins in a scene from "Quartet." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Kerry Brown)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dustin Hoffman's directing bow at 75 finds a perfect match in the well-heeled subject of "Quartet," a charming tale of aging musicians whose passion for life continues undiminished in a stately English manor filled with humor, caring and of course great music. This optimistic fairy tale about aging and the continuing possibilities it offers for emotional satisfaction should strike the fancy of older audiences who turned the British indie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" into a breakout hit released around the world. Leading a cast of real-life musical veterans, Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay put the stamp of quality on a lush-looking production, albeit one that adheres to genre rules with an iron grip.
Smoothly adapted by Ronald Harwood ("The Dresser") from his 1999 West End play, the film has a lot to do with "Tosca's Kiss," a 1984 documentary by the late Swiss director Daniel Schmid about Milan's Casa Verdi, founded by Giuseppe Verdi as a retirement home for impoverished singers and musicians. Hoffman's respectful treatment of those slightly otherworldly souls who have dedicated their lives to art is a touching salute that will be appreciated by classical music lovers, for whom arias from Rigoletto to The Mikado should prove ear candy.
The posh Beecham House, nestled in the untainted English countryside like a leftover from a Jane Austen novel, is populated by a crew of genteel, able-bodied oldsters who sing and play classical music all day long. In the music rooms, the conservatory and breakfast room, not to mention assorted gazebos scattered around the sprawling English garden and grounds, it's the kind of place where a little Bach is always welcome. Arthritic hands play the piano while retired tenor Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay) holds a music theory class for young people from the area. His witty lesson on the difference between opera and rap shows his thinking is still youthful.
This film image released by The Weinstein Company shows Maggie Smith, left, and Pauline Collins in a scene from "Quartet." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company)
As a matter of fact, there is very little doddering going on here, no visiting relatives to quarrel with, and a lot of reassurance by the home's director, the good Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith), that the end is still a long way off.
As the camera roams around the manor's marbled halls, it introduces the gushy but warm-hearted Sissy (Pauline Collins) and twinkling-eyed Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly, Queen Victoria's faithful servant in "Mrs. Brown"), whose overactive sex drive has not been quenched by his years, though his interest in the ladies is more raunchy wit than active pursuit.