Culture Street

Quartet is simply magic

On January 11, 2013

For anyone who is musically inclined this is a gem of a film. Based on the play by Ronald Harwood, Quartet is Dustin Hoffman’s directional debut. The 1984 documentary Il Bacio di Tosca, made at the Milan retirement home founded by Verdi, was allegedly an influence on Harwood's play and Hoffman has also cited it as one of his influences.

Quartet was filmed in Taplow at Hedsor House, a fabulous Georgian style mansion on the river surrounded by beautiful grounds.

Beecham House as it is known in the film is a retirement home fro retired musicians. Music fills the halls despite the age of the performers. Music has been and continues to be an integral part of their lives.

The film opens as the community of retirees await the arrival of an unknown, but very special resident. They know the arrival is special as the good car has been sent to escort the new resident to her new home and flowers placed in the arrival hall.

Wilf, a ladies man and lovable rogue, is played by Billy Connolly, the serious Reggie by Tom Courtenay and the delightfully playful Cissy by Pauline Collins. The three of them are anxious to greet the new arrival, but when Jean (Maggie Smith) arrives she is taciturn. Reggie is devastated that he had not been informed of her imminent arrival; he was once briefly married to Jean. Her arrival upsets his state of calm.

Meanwhile preparations are underway to celebrate the birthday of the brilliant composer Verdi. The residents all perform in the concert, which draws crowds who still remember the stars of their day. This year they need to raise funds to keep Beecham House going.

The four, Wilf, Reggie, Sissy and Jean, once sang the quartet from Rigoletto together and three are keen to perform this once more. Jean is not, her performing days are over and she sees no point in performing now she has passed her peak.

There is an outstanding supporting cast of retired musicians and singers. In a lovely tribute at the end of the film a photo of each star in their heyday, singing at Covent Garden or performing at the Old Vic, is shown on screen. Two of the supporting cast are particularly brilliant, Michael Gambon and Andrew Sachs (Fawlty Towers).

This is gentle film about retirement and the joy that can be found in having a passion for something. Despite their age these musicians who make up the supporting cast remain talented beyond description, yet their phone had not rung for twenty years, not until Dustin Hoffman placed that call. How brilliant for filmgoers that Hoffman did place that call. Such talent in one film.

A beautiful film that is good for the soul.



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