Adapted by Ronald Harwood from his play of the same name, the plot centers around the goings-on at a British retirement home for musicians. Our leading foursome is made up of a stroke victim who has lost the ability to censor himself (Billy Connolly), an increasingly confused busybody dealing with the on-set of Alzheimer’s (Pauline Collins), and the buttoned-down Reggie (Tom Courtenay) whose life is thrown upside down by the arrival of the famous former fourth member of their illustrious quartet, his ex-wife Jean (Maggie Smith).
Most of the film is devoted into two stories. The first involves Jean trying to earn Reggie’s forgiveness and reconnect with the love of her life who she lost to a terrible mistake in judgement decades ago. Pretty much by the book, you can probably guess exactly how this plotline plays out.
The second plot thread centers around the home’s annual celebration of Giusseppe Verdi‘s birthday which raises the necessary funds to keep the home going the rest of the year. Jean’s arrival sparks hope amongst the residents, including the celebration’s demanding director (Michael Gambon), that the quartet will reform for the finale of the concert and help raise the necessary funds to keep the home open another year. Of course Jean initially refuses, but… well, once again, there are no real surprises here.
Gambon and Connolly are over-the-top, providing some big (if decidedly unsubtle) laughs, but that’s what their roles require of them. The rest of the cast, with one notable exception, are hardly challenged at all with the demands of the script. I was very impressed with Sheridan Smith as the head doctor and the home’s resident warden. Smith and Connolly steal the movie’s most delightful scenes, and her character’s heartfelt introduction of the Verdi concert made me wish we had seen far more of her throughout the film.
I don’t feel Quartet has the same emotional weight of last year’s somewhat similarly-themed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but fans of that film are likely to enjoy themselves here. It also lacks the heart and complete zaniness of 2009’s The Concert in which a Russian orchestra is reunited 30 years later to give the performance they were never allowed to perform when they were blacklist for hiring Jewish musicians (and a film I’d heartily recommend as a better alternative).
Given it’s cast The Quartet comes off as something of a disappointment even if it is perfectly fine film that you are likely to enjoy (if not remember too clearly a few days later). It provides some good performances across the board from some great actors, but it leaves you wanting, and expecting, more. The movie is slowly being rolled out across the country. If you have interest your best bet is a local art house, although you won’t miss anything by waiting to catch up with it on DVD.