Beecham House is abuzz. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it's a star. For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they're in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard. Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert?
Dustin Hoffman has spent his entire career in front of the camera, until now. His directorial debut is none other than a love song dedicated to Opera, and music in general of the "old" sort--or if you asked any of the retired musicians in Quartet they may say their type is "real" music. They are of course geriatric, living their final days in Beecham House, a charity sponsored home for retired musicians. Every inch of Beecham House is always alive with music, from the parlor to the gazebo hidden amidst the trees; it is also home to plenty of gossip, most of which is inconsequential...until now. A new resident is checking in, a former Star, and his/her identity has been kept top secret by the Doctor who runs the home, Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith). For three of the current residents this person's arrival will stir up emotions they have not felt in decades, and for one it will reignite the spark of love that never actually went out.
Quartet is a wonderfully sweet film, that is boisterous in its execution yet subtle on the thematics, except when the Director of the gala concert, Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon), has words to be said--and he says plenty. The main characters are the former members of a quartet, Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly), Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), and Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). They performed "Rigoletto" in their prime and were the best of the best together. Their performance left a mark in operatic history and the arrival of Jean to Beecham House makes it possible once again for them to reunite. The hitch is of course that Jean and Reginald were once married, and she done him wrong. She has also not performed in years and the hard reality of losing your gift, your one thing that made you special, is a difficult thing to accept at any age. In Quartet it is a main focus of the film as Jean struggles with her circumstances creating a film much more demanding on its audience to look introspectively than one would expect. This drama is of course woven between plenty of light hearted comedic moments, most of which can be attributed to the outstanding Billy Connolly. Now, just because everyone is past their prime, so to speak, does not mean their emotions have lessoned or that they have forgotten what once was. Hoffman strings Quartet as a narrative about saving Beecham House with the annual concert's proceeds, as we see everyone preparing for their performances, and also as a love story centered on Reginald and Jean. They are what attaches us to the story and it is through their love and admiration and pain that the music means a great deal more. Getting the Quartet back together will not only be a momentous occasion, and secure the necessary funding for the house, but it will also heal old wounds.
Music and love abound throughout Quartet and you are hard pressed to not fall in step with the beats and enjoy the romantic interludes. Even the side story featuring Wilfred and Cecily, and their history with one another and the heartbreaking reality of their current situation is a moving testament to enduring love in the face of aging. Hoffman's directing could have been better, as some of the scenes do not have the fluidity one would like or the dramatics of the characters plays a tad too strongly. Every actor in the film is amazingly talented, so even when they are putting on a bigger show of emotion than need be they remain incredible to watch. Hoffman even cast actual musicians and singers, some incredibly famous and others less so, but he gives each their credit during the end credits, and it just might bring tears to your eyes over how lovely the sentiment. Quartet may not be the likely choice for most demographics but if taken a chance on you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself, one song, piano piece, or reminiscent story at a time.
For a movie based around music, and opera in particular, Quartet is a dream come true for lovers of classical music, as well as famous pre Rock-n-Roll compositions. Everyone at Beecham House plays an instrument, sings, or can keep the beat in some way or another. It makes for an eventful trip featuring romance and music, two perfect companions. Plus, the comedy suits the music as well--especially when Billy Connolly is front and center, and he is a great deal. It is difficult to pinpoint any one musical composition or performance in the film as they all blend together marvelously. The action is drawn out slowly, and the music helps to add a quickening device to the pace so long walks through the garden do not feel as such. Your mind envelopes the music so completely, and the different types constantly being performed or played, that it does not matter who is singing or who composed the music--it is the music's manner in which it draws you in and casts a web around you that makes you simply want to listen and enjoy, and not make a fuss over where it came from or whether the performer can still hit the high notes perfectly. Quartet makes music important to the story, and signifies its ability to bring people together whether diagetically or non--and it is a grand success.
January 11, 2013