Quartet (2012)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 27, 2012 @ tonymacklin.net.

50 years ago, Tom Courtenay starred in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) as a gaunt-cheeked, anti-Establishment rebel. Courtenay was one of the major, intriguing faces of the "Angry Young Men" of British film.

50 years later, it is a shock to see this young powerhouse has aged into a timeworn veteran.

50 Years ago Dustin Hoffman had not yet made his first movie. In 1967 he broke into fame in his second movie The Graduate, as blank-faced Ben Braddock.

Now in 2012 Courtenay and Hoffman have teamed up. Both men are 75. Courtenay is one of the stars in Quartet, Hoffman's first credited feature directorial effort. Hoffman does not appear in the film.

In Straight Time (1978) Hoffman had the leading role and initially was director. But after a brief time, he replaced himself. Now he takes the helm again, and keeps it artfully.

Quartet is a heady assemblage of 70-year olds. Six major stars are all septuagenarians: Michael Gambon (70), Billy Connolly (70), Pauline Collins (72), Courtenay (75) Gwyneth Jones (76), and last but certainly not least Maggie Smith (78).

Quartet, set on an English estate, is the mostly laid-back story of a group of inhabitants in a home for retired classical musicians. Each year on October 10, they celebrate Verdi's birthday with a show for the public.

When Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) moves into the home. a flamboyant director (Michael Gambon) thinks it would be a great idea for four of the opera singers to reprise their famed performance of the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto.

But Jean strongly resists the idea. One of the four is her ex-husband (Courtenay) who is still suffering from the end of their relationship. She now is alienated.

The other two are Sissy (Pauline Collins) and Wilf (Billy Connolly). Sissy is good-natured but flighty as age stymies her. Wilf is spry and outspoken as he lives to break rules.

Although reportedly Albert Finney had to drop out, Hoffman still is fortunate in his accomplished, gifted cast. Courtenay offers quiet but uncertain presence. Maggie Smith is her usual indomitable self.

Billy Connolly brings essential verve to the film, and Pauline Collins captures the conflicting aspects of her character.

Gwyneth Jones - an actual opera star - portrays an arrogant diva; her aria gives the film a real moment of power. 31-year old Sheridan Smith, as Dr. Lucy Cogan, holds her own among the talent that is more than twice her age.

Director Hoffman has a loose leash on his cast, which allows them to be creative. He is an actors' director.

The editing sometimes is awkward, but Hoffman is inventive. In one scene petals flutter downward (3-D for old people?). In another, four characters are represented by dots of light.

78-year old Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Pianist (2002), adapts his own stage play (1999). The movie has a different, less realistic ending than the play did. But it's well-done.

So often today, the older generation rejects movies because they think they're not for them. But Quartet is.

Some people will find Quartet skimpy and sentimental. It may be, but it has throbbing hearts and steady vocal chords.

Quartet is a paean to fading creativity.

Fading but still active.

At the end, Quartet has one of the best codas of the year. It's a series of photos of cast members as they are now and as they were in their youth. It has a spellbinding effect.

In Quartet, talent is transcendent.

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