They’re not old, they’re classics
Beecham House is a nursing home with a twist. Billed as a community for retired musicians, Beecham is a haven for symphony and opera stars awaiting their final curtain call. Instead of bingo, they perform arias and celebrate the birth of Verdi with an annual gala performance that brings them back to the stage.
Far from a quaint recreation hall affair, the gala is the main fundraiser that keeps Beecham House running. So when news that former opera superstar Jean Horton (Maggie Smith: Downton Abbey) will soon be residing at Beecham House reaches the ears of the gala planners, they’re confident the former diva will spur ticket prices.
The news of Jean’s arrival isn’t thrilling to her ex-husband Reginald (Tom Courtenay: Little Dorrit), who still loves Jean but cannot move beyond their bitter breakup. Still, the show must go on, and soon Reginald is pressured by his former singing partners Wilf (Billy Connolly: Brave) and Cissy (Pauline Collins: Mount Pleasant) to get Jean to perform.
Can he? Will the performance earn enough money to keep Beecham House running? Is there anything more charming than a group of older British actors?
Quartet is an endearing character study about the pain that comes with aging. The idea that you lose your looks, your fame, your abilities and, in some cases, your mind is a poignant topic for first-time director Dustin Hoffman (Luck).
While Quartet isn’t visually stunning, the cast of seasoned character actors keeps the film compelling. Smith is yet again cast as a woman so haughty and insufferable that it’s astounding the retirees don’t band together to tar and feather her. It’s a shame that an actress of Smith’s range is stuck in this role, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better aristocratic snob.
As her constantly upstaged former husband, Courtenay brims with repressed emotion. He hates himself for still loving Jean and uses his stoic persona to mask his deep hurt.
It’s funny to watch horny Wilf hit on the nurses, and Jean earns laughs as she verbally eviscerates rival singers. But the revelation of the film is Collins, as Cissy, a flighty soprano made even more addled by the onset of dementia. Hilariously unaware at one moment and terrified the next, Collins is a look at the side of aging no one wants to think about.
For Hoffman, however, the worst part of aging is losing your gifts. Quartet pays homage to the great artists of stage and screen in its theme and by casting them as residents of Beecham House. Stay for the credits to learn about the fantastic credentials of even the extras.
Quartet’s exemplary cast is more than up to the challenge of conveying Hoffman’s message that life and art are worth embracing even if you have to use a cane to get around. Consider it the literary set’s version of The Last Stand, an excellent piece of intellectual fluff for the highbrow crowd.