fri 19/07/2024

Quartet | reviews, news & interviews



Dustin Hoffman's delightful directorial debut centres on opera singers resisting retirement

Opera diva Jean (Maggie Smith) rejoices at Hedsor House in Dustin Hoffman's 'Quartet'

Assured, warm and comfy, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet is a tasteful farce of froths and strops. Hoffman’s always wanted to direct and it’s not like he hasn’t tried.

Dead Poets Society slipped from his hands, both starring and directing, when he didn’t say yes quickly enough (Robin Williams got the part). In the 1970s Hoffman bought the screen rights to Edward (Runaway Train) Bunker's No Beast So Fierce, intending to direct. After a few weeks, he gave the job to his friend Ulu Grosbard. Things turned bad: Hoffman wasn’t happy with Grosbard’s vision of "his" film, with Grosbard reportedly asking Hoffman: “What's more important, our friendship or the movie?” In the end, the 1978 film Straight Time left Hoffman uncredited as director and ruined his relationship with Grosbard: clearly, it’s not show friends, it’s show business.

They are retired in name only, continuing to sing and to carp and to fall in love

Now, at 75, Hoffman won Best Breakthrough Director at the Hollywood Film Awards with Quartet, a film he directs but doesn’t star in. Oscar-winner Ronald Harwood, of The Pianist fame, based the screenplay on his stage play, inspired by the 1983 documentary Tosca’s Kiss. Splendid Hedsor House, the Georgian style mansion in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, is a character in the film itself as it provides the sole location for Beecham House, roughly based on Verdi’s idea of an opulent home for retired opera singers.

Here, the twist is that despite flagging voices, they are retired in name only, continuing to sing and to carp and to fall in love. Another nice touch of Quartet is that it is peopled with real retired singers and musicians along with its stellar cast of Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay (who won acclaim in Harwood’s The Dresser).

Hoffman, as is the case with most actor-directors, weaves Quartet into a thespian delight: actors typically love being directed by other actors who understand their needs in all regards. Hoffman doesn’t need to make this film a trip into the menacing shadow of old age. Rather, he’s made a nice romp for a cast that has nothing left to prove. Certainly the soap opera that swirls within Quartet is idealised and predictable but it is also a lot of fun. Tension arises only mildly when plans for the annual Verdi celebration go asunder, thanks to the arrival of diva Jean (Smith), and the cast takes all emotion in its stride, creating a film that could only offend someone who’s looking for another film altogether. Smooth, entertaining and a joy to watch, Quartet is a film without surprises.

Hoffman doesn’t need to make this film a trip into the menacing shadow of old age


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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