And so Dustin Hoffman (amazingly enough, for the first time) takes to the director’s chair for this gentle, sweet but overly sentimental tale of life after the curtain calls have ended, Quartet (2012).
In a home for retired musicians, the annual gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is facing a big problem when Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) arrives to take up residence – she is something of an eternal diva and, worse, she is the former wife of Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), himself a great tenor in his time, who formed the titular quartet with Horton and other residents Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins). Horton begs Paget to let bygones be bygones, ‘We were such different people then’, but he is not quite ready to forgive and forget just yet – and Horton is nowhere near ready to return to the stage for the gala to sing with her old friends. Will she/he come round, do you think?
Ronald Harwood, who has drawn the screenplay from his original West End play, does a very good job at first of making the exchanges credible, funny and amusing, and all are very well cast in their roles (which may, unfortunately, become the kind of roles to which they now become perennially attached). However, the story’s simplicity becomes its ultimate downfall, as the narrative begins to strain towards its obvious conclusion.
Collins’ performance is in fact the most moving and arresting, as a woman who has no-one but her friends to rely on in her dotage, and whose grip on her own memory appears to be fading by the day.
Overall, Hoffman’s film is good-natured and enjoyable, but shows little flair beyond that of a competent first try.
98 mins. In English and Polish.