This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd December 2012
Someone obviously thinks that if you cast Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon in a film about retired musicians putting on a concert, the audiences will flock. Throw in Tom Courtenay and Shirley Valentine’s Pauline Collins to provide the talent and heart, and, actually, they probably will.
Picture this starry cast living in a country mansion which serves as a retirement home for classical musicians. Their days are filled with rehearsals and mini-performances, croquet and sexual innuendo directed at the patient and comely female staff. Suddenly a new resident arrives – operatic diva Jean (Smith) who sets the cat among the pigeons with her snooty demands, and the painful memories evoked for her ex-husband of decades prior.
Quartet is a lot of fun, and though its script relies a little too heavily on Connolly’s lasciviousness and Gambon’s shouty rambunctiousness (donning a fez and gaudy satin dressing gown, it’s impossible not to see him in his Harry Potter role), there are surprisingly moving scenes whenever Courtenay’s excellent Reggie takes the screen.
Building to a highly anticipated performance of the famous quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto, the musical numbers (performed by real-life old-timers of the classical and jazz eras) and theatrical in-jokes (“I don’t do chorus” retorts Jean, inevitably channelling the Dowager Countess of Grantham) provide a gentle counterpoint to the serious business, that is, the inevitability of losing one’s health or faculties to old age. The film’s target audience is likely to nod its head in recognition at parts and relish going along for the ride.