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Beecham House is abuzz. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it's a star. For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they're in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard. Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert?
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The world of opera is a relatively small one, so it is no surprise that a few of these divas and divos have a shared "history," and therein lies our tale.
Let's look at some of this wonderful cast:
* Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey") is Jean, who always had at least 12 curtain calls but hasn't been in the spotlight for far too long!
* Michael Gambon ("Harry Potter") is Cedric, in charge of the star-studded gala, with a towering ego of his own.
* Billy Connolly ("Brave") is Wilf, proof positive that an old horn dog never quits sniffing around.
* Tom Courtenay ("Gambit") is Reggie, a kind, considerate fellow who is still nursing a broken heart.
* Pauline Collins ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger") is Cissy, the sweet busybody who can't think of one bad thing to say about anyone.
Just a couple of important tips: 1) If you have any hearing problems, either see this in a theater that features closed captions, or wait for the DVD with Amazon.com so you can turn on the subtitles. 2) Be sure to stay through the final credits because Mr Hoffman generously included the faces of many of the performers, along with a head shot of that same performer during his or her heyday. What a beautiful finale!
BTW: I just received my DVD from Amazon and it DOES have closed captions. Yippee!
It probably helps to have a lifelong love of classical music, especially opera, with just a smidgen of Gilbert & Sullivan & vaudeville mixed in.
While, as expected, Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon are superb in the leading roles, the supporting player-musicians, who also inhabit the beautiful, scenic Beecham House, some of whom are familiar faces but most of whom I'd never heard of, are a joy to behold as well. Please be sure to stay for the closing credits where you'll see headshots of each of them as they are now and as they were in a key role from their heydays.
No one sums it up better than Ann Hornaday in her rave review in the January 24, 2013 Washington Post: "Smoothly navigating the perilous line between insufferably twee and heartbreakingly grim, "Quartet" is a subtle, sure-footed delight -- made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it was directed by a 75-year-old first-timer named Dustin Hoffman. Judging from this debut, the kid's got a future."
RE THE DVD EXTRAS: There's a batch of short clips of the leading actors talking about the movie and what it was like to work with Hoffman. But my fave is Hoffman's commentary track. You get the impression of an old friend sitting alongside you with his feet up, filling you in on the story behind the creation of these scenes, how they found all those wonderful old musicians for the supporting roles, sharing anecdotes about the actors and production challenges, pointing out how much of what's on screen was in the script and how much (quite a lot) was improvised. (Example: Pauline Collins's request--which was granted--that she adapt and play her character as being in the early stages of dementia, modeled on her own real-life mother.) It's great fun to go back to the movie for another look with DH's insights and anecdotes and backgrounders in mind.
I'm thinking this DVD might make just the right double feature for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
At Beecham House, the inhabitants are planning a fund-raising gala to commemorate Verdi’s birthday. it is directed by Cedric, played by Michael Gambon, and the usual who is best game is played. The appearance of Jean Horton, played by Maggie Smith, who is a brilliant British soprano, brings issues. If she joined three old friends for the quartet from “Rigoletto,” it would bring in a lot of mney.
Wild, played by Billy Connolly, is the lovable lech; Cissy, played by Pauline Collins , lovable but who is losing her memory. Reggie, played by Tom Courtenay, was married to Jean for nine hours years ago and has never gotten over her. Will the four come together and make music?
This is at once a lovable film, but also a look at the lives of those who are growing older. We can see ourselves in this elders. The terrific actors play their roles with grace and wit. Real musicians are interspersed into the film as residents of the Manor. Great music comes from the film, and it is an enjoyable film. You may become weepy eyed, but go into it.
Recommended. prisrob 06-18-13