Archive | January, 2013

QUARTET (2012) dir. Dustin Hoffman

25 Jan

Quartet (2012) dir. Dustin Hoffman

I love Hedsor House. The day the director came to look round – to make a decision about using the property in Quartet – I was there. It was great to see what they made. It’s a wonderful place.

Hedsor House (or Beecham House as it is in the film) is situated in sleepy Berkshire countryside, reminiscient of a mansion captured in a Gainsborough painting. The interior is similar to how it is in the film, minus a few winged chairs, less the hotel rooms. Behind those heavy wooden doors in the hallway lies an entire servant’s quarter, pantry system and modernised kitchen. It is an extraordinary building with beautiful views: a mini Versaille!

So perhaps I’d built Quartet up into something equally as spectacular in my expectations? It was only when entering the screening room itself that I considered this film was orientated towards an older generation. I was the youngest person in the cinema! Easily. By twenty years.

The gist is that a retirement home for musicians is putting on a gala to raise funds. Stories tend to be about a problem followed by a resolution. In this case the problem is new arrival, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a nasty bit of work with the power to make or break the gala as well as the spirit of her old friends. The resolution is, without trepidation, that the gala takes place inclusive of the original quartet of operatic singers from the 1960’s.

It turns out that her friends are a bit talented. The film is crammed with familiar faces from the British screen: Billy Connelly; Tom Courtenay; Pauline Collins; Andrew Sachs; Trevor Peacock. Sheridan Smith plays the relatively youthful doctor in charge of the home, the slouchy role she played in the TV series Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps still popping into my thoughts, although it was a long time ago now. I particularly enjoyed Michael Gambon’s eccentric performance as Cedric (“not Cedric: Ceeedric”).

The ending credits reveal to us the musical connections of many of the cast, giving the sensation of nostalgia or that the film was made in honour of a memory of times gone by, but made me feel a little insecure instead of a warm glow. Here were many figures from television programmes during my childhood playing eighty year olds in a retirement home, people who have embedded themselves upon my youth and who I want to keep there, ageless, immortal, for ever more unassociated with senility or incontinence.

Although the story was warming – it would be great for more films to disengage with violence – the confrontation of becoming an elderly person left me out in the cold. Did Dustin Hoffman anticipate this reaction when turning a play by Ronald Harwood into a film? Absolutely. It’s of the essence. However, it would be interesting to see what Hoffman could do with the more upbeat pace of a thriller. He seemed to understand how to direct.

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