The arrival of the renowned singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) at a retirement home for ageing opera singers disrupts the life of her ex-husband (Tom Cortenay) who is also a resident. Along with their friends, they attempt convince her to reprise one of their past performances for a fund-raising concert in celebration of Verdi’s birthday.



With his many years in the entertainment industry, Dustin Hoffman is an undeniable acting talent. However at the ripe old age of seventy five he has turned his hand to directing and being no spring chicken himself undoubtedly some of the experiences of growing old must have resonated with him. Set in a stately retirement home for once prominent opera singers and musicians, Quartet is a tale of the highs and lows of the ageing process.  ‘Growing old is not for sissies’ is the often repeated Bette Davis quote of Pauline Collins’ character Cissy and a sentiment most clearly felt by Maggie Smith’s once great Jean Horton who laments the loss of her former skill and youth.

 As you might expect Smith is her usual formidable self and while she may not be entirely convincing as a former Opera singer, she still carries off the grace and diva qualities associated with stardom ‘I never took less that twelve curtain calls, never’ she boasts in one scene to an enthralled Cissy. Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly provide many of the lighter moments and Collins might just steal the show away from Dame Maggie, no mean feat considering she is a veritable virtuoso of scene stealing and who has been known to run away with a film with just a withering glance and disparaging quip. Collins is hilarious as the ditsy and innocent Cissy though seamlessly interweaves moments of merriment with heartbreak as she struggles with dementia. Connolly also provides the laughs with his over-active libido to the dismay of many of the other residents though it’s really Courtenay and Smith who provide the most poignant moments as they work at a reconciliation which causes the film.

With the recent trend of films aimed at the elderly such as last year’s delightful Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it is pleasing to see the talents of some of our finest actors being put to good use rather than suffering from Hollywood ageism and Quartet is a prime example of how much more ageing actors can give; you don’t have to be twenty five and stunning to give a great performance or to play a great part. Next year will also see the release of Song for Marion, also following, elderly choir group led by Gemma Arterton.

Yes it’s light and fluffy but the performances from all the cast and the whimsical characters will hobble their way into your hearts. Another hilarious turn from Michael Gambon as the cantankerous events organiser adds another layer of amusement to the mix. It’s an uplifting look at how everyone can find a new lease on life and that it’s never too late to take risks. Growing old may not be for sissies but in the words of another great performer Bob Monkhouse, ‘Growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional’.


With this latest ‘old-rush’ of films focusing on the elderly, Quartet is a delight. With wonderful performances and an incredibly witty script full of the small pleasures and large grievances of geriatric life, it’s an uplifting directorial debut from Hoffman that hits all the right notes.



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