Movie review: Quartet
Musical comedy: Quartet is Dustin Hoffman's first effort as director.
It's set in a retirement home and stars Dame Maggie Smith but the comparisons between The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet end right there.
For a start, Dame Maggie's character in Quartet couldn't be further from the racist former housekeeper she played in 2012's other ensemble piece for older actors.
In fact, the ageing opera singer she portrays has more in common with her imperious Dowager Countess of Grantham, familiar to viewers of the TV hit Downton Abbey.
Quartet - Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut - features Dame Maggie as Jean, the newest resident of a plush-looking country home which houses retired musicians, along with Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtenay as her former opera colleagues.
Jean's presence causes waves from the moment she arrives, with her ex-husband Reggie (Courtenay) refusing to acknowledge her presence.
Taking refuge in her room, Jean has to be persuaded to mingle with the other residents by the delightfully dotty Cissy (Collins) with encouragement from Wilf (Connolly). But the central theme of the film quickly reveals itself when the star turn pulls out of an annual gala, held on Verdi's birthday, that raises money to keep Beecham House open.
Who better to step in than the newly-reunited quartet whose version of Verdi's Rigoletto has recently been re-released?
Jean is horrified by the prospect as she's sworn never to sing again, Reggie won't take part because he's never forgiven Jean for cheating on him, Cissy may lose the plot any minute and Wilf just doesn't take things seriously enough.
What drew audiences to TBEMH may also delight those who see Quartet the dry humour, the camaraderie, seeing the residents battle against their own ailments and the difficulties of living in close quarters but the real joy often comes from the music. Apart from the four stars and their musical director Cedric (Michael Gambon), most of the residents are actually retired musicians and singers.
It's delightful to see these older artists display their virtuosity on various instruments and by singing their hearts out.
The other moments of pure enjoyment are often delivered by Connolly, alongside Courteney's tightly-wrapped portrayal of the betrayed Reggie.
But it's the music that will ring on in your head long after Quartet has finished. Even for someone who isn't a fan of opera, I have to admit the aria sung by Dame Gwyneth Jones brought me to tears. And for those who usually rush out of the cinema as soon as the movie ends, take note: this is one set of credits you'll want to hang around for.
Quartet (M) is in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day.
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Couped up: Pauline Collins and Maggie Smith in Dustin Hoffman's Quartet.