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London Film Festival 2012: Quartet - Review

Quartet

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DUSTIN Hoffman makes his directorial debut with Quartet, an amiable heart-warmer that doesn’t stretch anyone too far outside of their comfort zone.

Derived from a stage play by Ronald Harwood, of The Pianist and The Diving Bell & The Butterfly fame, the film contains some wry observations about dealing with old age but seldom strays too far from the next chuckle, a point Hoffman says he was acutely aware of when striving to lend the film as universal appeal as possible.

The story takes place in a specialist retirement home for old musicians in the run up to an annual fundraising concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday as the gentle existence of long-term residents Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred (Billy Connolly) and Cecily (Pauline Collins) is upset by the arrival of Reggie’s former wife Jean (Maggie Smith).

As Reggie struggles to keep a lid on his feelings, the four are asked to reunite and perform together at the concert, forcing the two to confront their history together and, in Jean’s case, her diva-style reluctance to sing again.

Hoffman’s film leaves you in no doubt where it’s heading and frustrates in places but is an otherwise entertaining experience that manages to feel much less patronising than that other elderly audience favourite, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. As such, it should have no problem attracting that same crowd.

And as you’d expect from an actor of Hoffman’s stature, his film is all about performance even if he doesn’t ask anyone to really stretch themselves.

Hence, Courtenay is the pick of the ensemble as the engaging Reggie, struggling to deal with heartbreak more than old age, while Smith is typically feisty, dispensing dry put downs and observations with her usual aplomb. She does, however, get to tap into a more sensitive side, too, which works well during her scenes with Courtenay.

Connolly provides the bulk of the laughs and occasionally pushes it too far as the outspoken Wilfred and Collins is engaging, if overly pushing the forgetfulness during some of the film’s more contrived moments.

There’s engaging support, too, from the likes of Sheridan Smith, Michael Gambon and other residents of the home, all of whom are real-life musicians and singers and all of whom are given a moment to remind people of their talents by virtue of Hoffman’s generosity of direction.

If there are moments that grate or threaten to test the patience, then overall they can be forgiven given Quartet’s [and Hoffman’s] desire to entertain, especially as all involved do enough to ensure that the predictably sentimental finale does still manage to touch the heart as well.

Certificate: 15tbc
Running time: 90mins
UK Release Date: January 4, 2013
London Film Festival Dates: Monday, October 15 (Odeon Leicester Sq), Saturday, October 20 (OWE2)