I gravitate towards any film that features Maggie Smith, and an added incentive here is that Dustin Hoffman makes his debut as a Director in this English romp called “Quartet.” The film is based on the play of the same name written by English writer Ronald Harwood, who reached the peak of his career with his magnificent play entitled “The Dresser.”
The setting is a Utopian mansion called Beecham House on an elegant property with manicured lawns, walking paths, and imposing shade trees. The estate is now called home by several aging Opera singers who can no longer afford the lavish homes they used to grace. All their needs are taken care of, and they have the companionship of persons with whom they share memories and who are well-versed in their favorite topics of conversation, which for the most part consists of the casts and stories of famous operas with which they were all associated.
Each has a story to tell, and the audience becomes privy to tales of a handful of the guests. With the exception of Maggie Smith, none of these actors are well-known by American viewers; still, the lack of recognition adds another dimension to their performance since they bring no former baggage to their roles in “Quartet.”
Pauline Collins (Cissy) with Quartet Poster - Wikimedia
Wilf Bond (played by Billy Connolly) is a handsome daredevil whose psyche has been affected by a slight stroke which causes him to lose censorship of his words, especially to the ladies. Everyone knows he is harmless in his flirtations, and gives the viewer a few smiles along the way.
Cissy (played by Pauline Collins) is slowly sinking into dementia, but has a happy disposition and enjoys the life she lives at Beecham House.
Reggie (played by Tom Courtenay) is a serious intellectual who teaches a class in Opera once a week to village teenagers who come to Beecham House for his lectures. He is somewhat a brooder, and we soon find out why.
Cedric (played by Michael Gambon) was a well-known Director in his day, and continues to wield his authority over the players at this time in their lives.
Dr. Lucy Cogan, a young female doctor (played by Sheridan Smith), looks after the health needs of the guests and hears their confidences. She is well liked.
The only authentic former Opera star in the cast is Gwyneth Jones, who plays the part of Anne Langley, the diva of the House.
Life continues calmly for this group until the unexpected arrival of a new guest, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who once performed with Wilf, Reggie, and Cissy the Act 3 Quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” She was greeted profusely by everyone even though she feels shame at having to give up her beautiful home in London to settle for Beecham House.
It should be mentioned that Beecham House has run into financial trouble and needs to do some fundraising to prevent the home from closing. The guests are preparing for their annual gala, a concert held on Verdi’s birthday, with the hope that enough tickets might be sold to keep their home afloat for another year.
It soon comes to light that Reggie is distressed that Jean Morton has arrived at Beecham House; nobody had warned him. He and Jean were married for a short time (it may have been just hours) when Jean was unfaithful to Reggie with another beau. Reggie has never been able to forgive her, even though he has always been in love with her. He remains cool to Jean when she arrives.
Cissy proposes to Jean that the four might do the Act 3 Quartet which achieved such popularity in their younger days. Jean became belligerent and stated emphatically that she would not participate, that she no longer sings.
In one scene, it is obvious that Reggie has overheard Jean telling Dr. Cogan about her brief marriage to Reggie, and she admits that she is still in love with him after all these years.
Only one incident will change Jean’s mind about performing with the Quartet. Jean and diva Anne Langley were apparently rivals in their younger days and they continue to dislike each other. When Jean learns that Anne plans to sing her famous role from Tosca, she is determined to attempt to overshadow her once again. She agrees to perform with the Quartet. Maggie Smith, by the way, was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in “Quartet.”
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Courtenay with Quartet Poster - Wikimedia
The ending is predictable, but still the journey getting there was enjoyable. All’s well that ends well. An added attraction came in the closing credits which showed photos of several of the actors in roles in their early days next to photos of them at the present time. It appears that many did operatic roles early on.
The film was educational as well as a pleasant tale of the dignity which is treasured by those whose successful careers have ended merely because of their growing old, albeit gracefully.