And Don't Pee Your Trousers
This sage advice comes from one of the film’s stars, Billy Connolly, as he reflects on his own aging process. With septuagenarian director Dustin Hoffman at the helm, this delightful movie presents an uplifting portrait of a group of musicians as they face their own “third act”.
4 Stars: Perfect for those who believe music = life.
Welcome to Beechum house, a retirement home for musicians. This place is the final home for many of Britain’s most beloved opera singers, pianists and composers. Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay) and Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) live in relative comfort, all being old friends from their long careers in the musical arts.
Cecily however, is struggling with dementia and seems to go in and out of the present, taking mental trips to her celebrated past. She and the others are stunned, however, when a new arrival hobbles to Beechum house. Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) was a first-class diva in her day.
The grandest opera singer in all of England, Jean is humiliated to come to the retirement home, but with no children and no savings, there’s no place else for her to go.
Particularly distraught over Jean’s arrival is Wilfred, her ex-husband. Jean was the love of his life and their divorce was brought about when Jean cheated on him. Seeing her, knowing he has to live out the rest of his days with her, opens a deep wound for him.
Years ago, Wilfred, Cecily, Reginald and Jean were a dynamic quartet, exciting audiences around the globe. Reginald and Cecily team up to concoct a plan to reunite the once-famous quartet for a gala at Beechum house to raise money to keep the home operating. Their plan won’t be easy, considering Wilfred’s animosity toward Jean and her refusal to sing any longer.
Opera singers are like athletes. As their bodies age, their level of performance declines. Jean would rather cling to the glory of her past than sing imperfectly in front of any audience.
Michael Gambon plays Cedric, an eccentric music conductor who cracks the whip on rehearsals, penalizing any tardy musicians. It's fun to see Gambon as someone other than Harry Potter's Professor Dumbledore.
Quartet is full of humor and wit, balancing the painful truths that come with an aging body and mind. Based on the play by writer Ronald Harwood that was inspired by the 1984 documentary Tosca’s Kiss, this movie encourages us to rethink the value of life in one’s '80s and '90s.
Using real, retired British musicians in the supporting roles, director Dustin Hoffman gives us a portrait of retirement that inspires hope and fulfillment.
Bottom line: This is a life-affirming film that shows aging in a tender, beautiful way. Even if you’re not fond of opera, you’ll still enjoy this sweet little film.
Quartet is 1 hour and 37 minutes. Stay through the credits to see beautiful vintage photos of the real-life musicians in the film.
Photo credit: The Weinstein Co.