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'Quartet' review: 'A cosy comfort blanket of a film'

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Released on Tuesday, Jan 1 2013

Director: Dustin Hoffman; Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood; Starring: Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Sheridan Smith, Michael Gambon; Running time: 98 mins; Certificate: 12A


A cosy comfort blanket of a film, Dustin Hoffman's Quartet takes place predominantly inside the four walls of Beecham House, a specialist retirement home for musicians and opera singers. It's packed to the rafters with British acting greats as the likes of Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins all get the chance to entertain in this light-hearted comedy.

It's the arrival of Smith's former opera icon Jean Horton that pushes the story into motion. Every year the residents of the home put on a concert to celebrate the birthday of composer Giuseppe Verdi, but the event is thrown into doubt as Jean refuses to perform, fearing she won't be up to scratch and thus dilute her reputation as an all-time great.
    "It's packed to the rafters with British acting greats as the likes of Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins all get the chance to entertain in this light-hearted comedy."
There's also the matter of Courtenay's Reg, who's still nursing a broken heart after his marriage to Jean fell apart. It's left to Connolly's Wilf and Collins's Sissy to convince the reluctant Jean to relive her glory days and belt out the Rigoletto one last time.

Stand-out performances in Quartet come from Smith (complete with her patented withering stare), whose icy character thaws over the course of the story, and Connolly's Wilf, the twinkling old dog of the group who unleashes double entendres ("seasoned wood") aplenty in the direction of the home's pretty doctor Lucy (Sheridan Smith).

Pauline Collins and Maggie Smith in Quartet


Hoffman proves to be a capable director, too, giving his cast enough room to have fun with Ronald Harwood's script. You get the impression that Connolly and co, so often supporting players, are revelling in these quick-witted words.

The secondary cast also includes the likes of Andrew Sachs and Michael Gambon, who make the most of their limited screen time, while a host of real-life retired musicians take on background roles for some lively rehearsal and performance scenes.
    "Hoffman proves to be a capable director, too, giving his cast enough room to have fun with Ronald Harwood's script. You get the impression that Connolly and co, so often supporting players, are revelling in these quick-witted words."
Quartet mainly stumbles in its reliance on a single location and overly-long passages of dialogue that betray its roots as a stage play. It feels very much like a charming made-for-TV movie, but strong performances from the cast are enough to justify the price of admission. This is primarily a showcase for its stately acting lineup, though.

Like the recent Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet has its sights firmly set on collecting the grey pound. The presence of Smith - a fixture in Hotel and blue rinse favourite Downton Abbey - will help draw in the target audience, but the film lacks any well-fleshed out younger character to keep junior viewers interested.

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