3 January 2013

Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Quartet’

Another month, another film actor turns director – after Ben Affleck comes Dustin Hoffman. His Quartet is in the British genre of cinema geriatrica and probably has an eye to the same market as Tea with Mussolini, Ladies in Lavender, and, more recently, The King’s Speech and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. On this occasion Maggie Smith (78) has a leading part but not Judi Dench (78). However, Michael Gambon (71), Pauline Collins (71) and Tom Courtenay (76 next month) turn in faultless performances not quite matched by Billy Connolly (70). Hoffman is 75, incidentally.

Quartet, based on a play and sreenplay by Ronald Harwood (78,) is set in the Beecham Home for retired opera singers and other old musical folk. They are putting on a concert. Will Jean, the new arrival character played by Smith, join with some of the other big names above and perform the quartet Bella figlia dell'amore from Verdi’s Rigoletto? You see, Jean was once married to Reginald, played by Courtenay – can you guess the outcome?

Practically every shot in Quartet is beautifully framed and the location is charming. Sheridan Smith (31) plays the Home’s young resident medic with great aplomb given the thespian seniority of the leading lights. Many of the supporting cast seem to be retired musical professionals, all enjoying themselves thoroughly. Most people above 40, say, won’t dislike Quartet but Haneke’s Amour might make them think harder about the realities of old age, should they want to. Whether the introduction of rap was meant to extend the film’s appeal to a wider demographic or just make the target oldies feel “with it”, as they might once have said, who knows? Knowing very little about rap, I still didn’t find it convincing.

David Gritten’s Daily Telegraph article explains how Hoffman came to direct such an English film. Quartet (2012) has no connection with James Ivory’s Quartet (1981) although Maggie Smith is in both!

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