At a home for retired opera singers, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.
This log line is from the International Movie Database and is 100% accurate. QUARTET is indeed about the disruption that ensues at a home for retired opera singers with the arrival of Jean the eternal diva and former wife of one of the residents. It is, in fact, about little else.
There is an attempt to suggest that the home, Beecham House will close if the end-of-year-show doesn’t earn enough money. This storyline is touched upon intermittently, but carries no real weight. QUARTET focuses on whether former opera superstar Jean Houghton (Maggie Smith) will overcome her fears and whether the “old band” will get back together. The other singers in question are Wilf (Billy Connolly), Reg (Tom Courtenay) and Cissy (Pauline Collins). There are many past hurts and current issues keeping this group from performing together.
The egomaniacal director of the end of year show Cedric (Michael Gambon) believes that with these four assembled they can offer the public one last chance to hear them performing the ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’ quartet from Rigoletto. Wilf, Reg and Cissy embark on a mission to persuade Jean that it’s time they sang together once more.
The real pleasure of QUARTET is seeing some terrific older actors strut their stuff. As ever, I would be happy seeing Maggie Smith read out the proverbial telephone book. Tom Courtenay is a finely calibrated instrument who needs to be on our screens more often. I’ve never been a fan of Pauline Collins, but I must revise my opinion now; she does some lovely work here. Crowd favourite Billy Connolly gives one of his more rounded performances. Oddly enough, despite being 70 years old, he has some trouble convincingly portraying a man in his 70s! He seems far too hale and hearty to be living in a home.
First time feature director Dustin Hoffmann, does some nice work with his cast of seniors. Many of the other players are genuine opera singers and if you want to know who’s who and what they’re famous for, make sure you stay for the credits where the producers go to the trouble of providing this information.
QUARTET is written by Sir Ronald Harwood, the Oscar winning screenwriter. It is based on his 1999 play of the same name. Harwood’s screenplay is a reliable laugh-getter that will appeal to an older audience who remember this cast from their salad days and possibly from Salad Days. This is blue chip entertainment for audiences who enjoyed Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR or John Madden’s BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.
QUARTET is on selected Australian screens now. It runs for 98 minutes. I rated it 6/10.