dir Dustin Hoffman
scr Ronald Harwood
prd Finola Dwyer, Stewart Mackinnon
with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay, Sheridan Smith, Gwyneth Jones, Andrew Sachs, Shola Adewusi, Jumayn Hunter, Trevor Peacock, David Ryall
release US 28.Dec.12, UK 4.Jan.12
12/UK BBC 1h30
A second chance: Courtenay and Smith

gambon connolly smith
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Quartet The subtle intelligence of Harwood's script undergirds what's otherwise a breezy-glowy drama. The veteran actors make the most of this subtext, while director Hoffman adds a spark of humour and a whiff of romantic comedy. In other words, it's a nicely made film that lets us sit back and enjoy ourselves.

When the iconic soprano Jean (Smith) arrives at a home for retired musicians, plans for the annual gala performance are revised. The show's diva-like director (Gambon) decides to reunite the quartet from a famed performance of Verdi's Rigoletto. The flirty Wilf (Connolly) and ditzy Cissy (Collins) are up for it, but Reggie (Courtenay) is still in pain after his failed marriage to Jean. And once everyone manages to get Jean and Reggie back on speaking terms, the bigger task is to convince Jean to come out of retirement and sing again.

Yes, this is a story about second chances, and Harwood cleverly plays on how age brings both increased stubbornness and a greater ease about the cycles of life. It of course helps that these particular retirees are lively, curious and energetic. In fact, this is perhaps the happiest nursing home on earth, with glorious views of the English countryside, live music in every room (inventively scoring each scene) and only the odd mention of health issues. Even Cissy's dawning senility is played with a smile.

The ensemble is clearly having a ball. Gambon swishes around imperiously, making hilarious pronouncements that everyone ignores. Connolly plays up Wilf's randy impulses in each innuendo-heavy encounter. Collins is utterly radiant, as is Sheridan Smith as the doctor in residence. Which leaves Smith and Courtenay to do what little heavy lifting there is, as their characters dress their old wounds with just enough raw emotion that we believe them.

Along with this perfectly-gauged underplaying, Hoffman's quietly witty direction keeps the film from becoming sentimental. There may not be many sharp edges to the story or characters, and some of the pithy one-liners are almost painfully obvious. But the film is packed with moments that catch us off guard, revealing that these geriatrics have a lot of life in them. Thankfully, neither the characters nor the actors are going quietly into their sunset years.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 15.Oct.12 lff

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