Wednesday 2 January 2013


This was a most agreeable start to my film-viewing year - something I wasn't expecting one little bit! It's Dustin Hoffman's first venture into feature film directing, and one of which he has every right to be pleased, even proud.

A quintessentially English tale (though the subject could be pretty well universal) by the veteran British playwright, Ronald Harwood and based on his stage play, performed with a stalwart, stellar, and entirely British cast.
The 'quartet' of the title refers to four former opera-singer residents of a largish home for retired musicians, while the impetus of the story arises from their wishing (or otherwise) to perform together a quartet from 'Rigoletto' in a small-scale concert at the home to commemorate Verdi's birthday.

The cast is uniformly first-class, as one might expect, but Billy Connolly deserves special mention for his mischievous twinkling and impish humour - while Maggie Smith (is there no getting away from that woman?), as the 'fly-in-the-ointment' late arrival at the home, shows just why she is such a very good actress, conveying both depths and subtle switches of emotion with no more than a pursed lip, or the raising of an eyebrow or a slightly altered tone of voice.

I was dreading all the 'old people' cliches - bitching among themselves, cantankerous exchanges, toilet functions, the residents being patronised by the younger members of staff etc. There is certainly the first three of these but it's all carried off without appearing over-hackneyed. Must confess that I wasn't particularly looking forward to this film, being one of several in recent months which has had aged people in central roles. Given my own years it's a subject I don't want to have my nose rubbed into, so it was with some surprise to find that I was enjoying it so much. (The dialogue in particular needs commending. It's a first-rate screenplay.)
An added bonus for me was that I hadn't realise that one of the smaller roles is taken by none other than the Dame Gwyneth Jones, whom I've seen a few times on the operatic stage, the last occasion being when she sang the title role in 'Turandot' at Covent Garden in the early 90's. Although I've never actually met her in person, she is, or was, an acquaintance of a gay friend with whom I still have contact. Must ask him if he knew that she was going to be in this film. She has a small speaking role but near the end of the film, at this concert, she's allowed to sing a truncated version of a particular well-known aria (I'm not saying which!)

So, that was a happy start to 2013. May it continue in this vein. Meantime I'm more than pleased to award 'Quartet' a.......7.5/10


  1. I am so looking forward to this one. The Divine Maggie playing a Diva - does it get any better? For several years, her great talent was wasted playing a minor role in the 'Potter' series. I imagine that her delicious turn as the Countess Of Grantham put her in the spotlight again and resurrected her career. Am wondering - why the mystery of the well-known aria?

    1. Shhhh! Don't tell anyone, Paul (re 'mystery' aria) - but that was my cover for not recalling the name of it at that time! Now that it's come back I think I'll still leave it where it is.

      I've since read that this quartet of retired professional singers in the film, after a great deal of vocal coaching, the actors did actually manage to sing the number from Rigoletto themselves, but Mr Hoffman decided to edit their performance out - as he also did, apparently, with all scenes involving a certain dog the Billy Connolly character had, unbeknown to me as I watched it.

      I think Dame Maggie has been around (at least on British screens) non-stop even before H.P. I doubt if she's ever been out of work in her life.
      I managed to see her on stage once - about 25 years ago in Peter Shaffer's 'Lettice and Loveage' (with the late Margaret Tyzack) which later went on to Broadway.

      I'll be very surprised if you don't enjoy this film. From what I know of you it'll be right up your street.

      Btw: Sincere apologies for only just noticing your comment above - 9 days later! (Oh, the shame!) Since I started my blog I've responded to every single comment made as it's only fair when others take the trouble to write. Don't know what went wrong here but you can take it that if, heaven forbid, another gets through - if I haven't at least acknowledged it then I won't yet have seen it, but I'll try extra hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

  2. this is a movie I want to see in 2013, but it has not yet been released in this country.

    thanks for the great review, raybeard!

    1. Mucho gracias, A.M.
      With apologies to you too, I must refer you to my final paragraph immediately above. Sorry I missed having seen your comment for so long, especially 'cos I know that you are another one who always writes an answer to any comments others make on your own postings.

      The film is bound to get an American release. If there was any doubt about it I'm sure Mr Hoffman would have the clout to make it happen. Looking forward to seeing if you enjoy it as much as I think you will.