Director: Dustin Hoffman
Cast: Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins
Watch Quartet online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV Store / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
“Old age is for sissies!” says Cissy (Collins). “I always remember that saying because it’s like my name!”
Cue lots of laughter from the residents of Beecham House, a home for retired musicians. If you’re laughing too, Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet is for you. If not, hang in there: it gets better.
Dustin’s directorial debut, adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own play, is exactly what you’d expect from the congenial actor; a warm-hearted ode to the act of performance.
Maggie Smith on vocals? Another OAP on piano? This is The Best Exotic Marigold 2: The Musical. Or, Classic FM: The Movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the talented old farts stop their clarinets getting too full of hot air.
Still, Quartet throws all the ageing cliches at the screen. Some of them stick – an unrequited romance between the sober Tom Courtenay is surprisingly nice – but others fall to the floor. At which point Hoffman wheels out Billy Connoly’s token rascal to say some naughty words.
Borrowing heavily from The Muppets (or even High School Musical), the overall plot – put on a show, save the home from closure – is predictable, but the performers are clearly having a good time; Michael Gambon is deliciously cruel as the show’s controlling musical director, while unlike Marigold Hotel, Maggie gets more to do than simply look at people with a withering expression. As for the soundtrack, it helps that a lot of the house guests are genuine musicians, using their natural gifts to balance out the lack of maestros in our main group.
But the key thing is that despite the syrupy key changes, Hoffman’s relaxed direction keeps the tempo up. One delightful sequence at the start sees the entire ensemble moving through the building in time to Verdi. The whole piece builds to a lovely crescendo in the final movement that has real dramatic pathos. Quarter is no magnum opus but it’s a charming chamber piece. Hoffman hits all the right notes – and most of them in the right order.
Quartet is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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