Quartet a Simple Character Drama That Comes Along Too Infrequently

Quartet a Simple Character Drama That Comes Along Too Infrequently

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and suggestive humor
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray digital download and on demand

Dustin Hoffman waited 75 years for his directorial debut, and the resulting film makes one wish he had stepped behind the camera decades earlier. “Quartet” is not just good; it’s the sort of sweet, simple character drama that comes along too infrequently.

The film focuses on Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins), residents of the Beecham House, a retirement home that caters to musicians. Despite their advanced age, the trio is good-spirited and active, particularly when working on Beecham’s annual concert in celebration of composer Giuseppe Verde’s birthday.

Wilf is an extroverted clown who has never met a woman he didn’t like, Reginald is a serious musician who teaches local youth and Cissy is hopelessly congenial, despite showing early signs of dementia. All three made their living as opera singers, and they seem happy spending their golden years with other musicians. The mood changes, however, when Beecham welcomes retired opera singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith).

Jean is not only a first-tier diva, she was once married to Reginald, and he is still haunted by their traumatic split. Making the reunion even more dramatic is the fact that Jean refuses to sing in the Verde concert despite requests from other retirees.

Hoffman’s movie, which screenwriter Ronald Harwood adapted from his own stage play, follows Wilf, Reginald and Cissy as they become reacquainted with Jean. And, as they do, they must decide whether they can reestablish the bonds they had decades before or if their rocky past is too much to overcome.

Hoffman’s direction is direct and simple, which is exactly what “Quartet” requires. The movie, shot on location in England, is so littered with talent that Hoffman’s primary job is to get out of the way and let his players work. Smith, Courtenay, Connolly and Collins are incredible, and they are aided by a memorable supporting turn from Michael Gambon, who plays a retired opera director.

Although Hoffman tells the story in reserved fashion, his work is solid. He allows his camera to linger on the actors, soaking up their work while also capturing the beauty of the English countryside. Every now and then he allows the pacing to lull, but he is quick to make corrections, leaving viewers with a picture that is a smart, well-executed ode to our golden years.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes and an audio commentary

By Forrest Hartman

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