Dustin Hoffman had a trial run behind the camera way back in 1978 for pet project Straight Time, but ended up as an uncredited director for the hard-hitting crime drama. Quartet, his first proper stab as a filmmaker, is an altogether more sedate and cosy affair.
It takes place at Beecham house, a retirement home for musicians that counts the likes of Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins among its residents. Each year the house holds a concert to celebrate composer Giuseppe Verdi's birthday, but their latest money-spinning event is thrown into jeopardy when Reg's (Courtenay) ex-wife Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) comes to live at Beecham.
Still nursing a broken heart, Reg can't bear to face Jean, and it takes some cajoling from Wilf and Cissy - all part of a classic Rigoletto recording back in the day - to mend old wounds in the group. They're also not helped by Jean's resistance to performing - she was a superstar in her youth and believes she'll tarnish that memory by singing now.
Quartet has a warmth and charm that'll likely make it a firm hit with the same crowd that turned out for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Both films were marked by flinty, terse performances by Maggie Smith, with her characters (both needing hip replacements!) gradually warming over time. Like Marigold, Quartet tackles ideas of ageing without pushing the story into too dark a direction.
The film's greatest strength lies in the excellent performances from the cast. Connolly provides much-needed light relief as ladies' man Wilf, who describes himself to the in-house doctor (Sheridan Smith) as like "vintage wine and seasoned wood". The likes of Michael Gambon and Andrew Sachs also leave an impression in their fleeting roles.
Ronald Harwood's script, based on his own stage play, occasionally betrays its theatrical roots with some dense dialogue and reliance on the same locations, but his story of the elderly finding a way to relive their glory days is sure to cement this as a blue rinse favourite.
Photo gallery - BFI London Film Festival 2012 in pictures: