Posted by: greercn | January 5, 2013

Quartet

“Quartet” is a very sweet-natured film that warms the heart. Despite being a bit “stagey, darling”, Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut engages your emotions, brain and the part of you that wants to love opera, but would rather be at a movie.

Film is – largely – a medium trying to appeal to young men, who buy most of the tickets and popcorn. You wait ages for a movie about getting old and, suddenly, three come along within a few months. Of our triptych, “Amour” is the one to see if you want to end up killing yourself before you suffer too horribly. It will help you to build up the required guts to just end your life, before age makes you a shell of your former self.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is for people who think it might be best to die in a much more beautiful place than wherever they live while “Quartet” is for those of us who would like to age while singing, beautifully.

Hey, for me this is a no-brainer choice.

Maggie Smith played a working-class girl in “Marigold” but “Quartet” sees her in full diva mode, as former opera star Jean Horton. Jean’s off to the Beecham (get it?) Home for retired musical folk.

Billy Connolly plays the youngster here and I made a fundamental error in thinking he was John Cleese, for the first 20 minutes. Honestly, it’s an easy mistake to make, visually and the presence of Andrew Sachs (who once was Manuel, the hilarious Spanish waiter in “Faulty Towers”) and this meant I wasted valuable screen minutes puzzling over the Scots accent. D’oh, as Homer Simpson says.

Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and a magnificently camp Michael Gambon round off the big name stars present. The rest of the cast – in a stroke of genius – are mostly people with a great history of musical and theatre accomplishment in their pasts and a rather puzzling Sheridan Smith as the senior doctor at the home.

I guess she’s here in the hope of pulling in some youth, innit? Our Sheridan – a gifted comedian – appears to be in a totally different film about how the young manage the problems of the old.

Writer Ronald Harwood wrote the stage play and “The Pianist” and, just for once, it’s a good thing he wrote both as, despite some odd “being on stage” moments, it all feels like it flows, effortlessly.

Dustin Hoffman directs this beautifully and the pacing is perfect. Still, I would have loved to see him in the movie.

There is quite a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan here. I love G&S. Apart from “Topsy Turvy” and the magnificent “Foul Play”, there is far too little of their work around and in film and I adored the bits featured here.

Of course, it all builds up to a grand opera moment as the complex personal lives and shared histories of our Big Four stars build towards the grand finale.

Unlile opera, nobody gets stabbed or strangled. It all builds to harmony, in perfect time.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience all sighed and some sang along, ill advisedly. Reader, I had to “shush” people and I was reduced to saying “if you want to speak loudly about your kidney infection, go outside, please” in a particularly bossy way to one lass who could not stop chattering away about her organ issues. I was applauded by my row. The offender shushed, but glared at me as she left. I’ll live with that, somehow and with therapy.

It’s a joyful and entertaining film to start a new year of viewing with. A Very Happy New Year to all my readers and let’s hope 2013 brings along many such quirky and loveable films as “Quartet”.

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