Maggie Smith (left) and Pauline Collins hit some lovely notes in Quartet.
QUARTET directed by Dustin Hoffman, written by Ronald Harwood from his play, with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. An Alliance Films release. 98 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
Quartet is a harmless bit of cinematic hokum that's sure to please the same demographic that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel such a hit. Newly arrived at Beecham House, a fictional retirement home for opera singers, legendary soprano Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) finds herself amidst old colleagues (Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins) and her bitter ex-husband (Tom Courtenay). Will the three convince the terribly proud Jean to sing at the upcoming annual benefit celebrating Verdi's birthday?
Like Marigold, the film's really just a showcase for great acting, with Connolly hamming it up amusingly as an aging rake, Collins tugging at your heartstrings as a singer with dementia and - best of all - Courtenay showing that his steely-eyed intensity hasn't dimmed with age. There are snatches of opera (nice touch to have real soprano Gwyneth Jones playing Jean's nemesis), but director Dustin Hoffman lets us down in the climactic concert.
The most heartfelt moment comes during the closing credits, where we see how many actual musicians were involved and get glimpses of the actors in their prime.