By William Wolf


Dustin Hoffman, long admired as an actor, has directed his first film and it’s a beaut. A sympathy for colleagues in the profession informs the work, an adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play. The overall tone can be compared to the enjoyable “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which has British old folks attempting to retire in India. In “Quartet” the retirees are opera singers and musicians, and the home is in England. The cast is perfect and Hoffman knows exactly how to show them off to best advantage.

In Beecham House we meet Billy Connolly as Wiff, Tom Courtenay as Regie and Pauline Collins as Cissy, all long-time colleagues. They willingly help raise funds by taking part in an annual concert organized around the birthday of the great opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. So far so smooth. But this time around an added ingredient is thrust into the mix.

She’s Maggie Smith as Jean, newly arrived and formerly married to Regie. Once she, Regie and the other two were known as a renowned quartet. Joining them for the benefit is a natural idea. But Jean has been finding life tough-going and really would like to be left alone in her new surroundings. Anyone familiar with Smith’s wiles as an actress knows to expect some sharp doings, and she doesn’t disappoint. The other members of the cast help build colorful, tense but often funny situations, with Michael Gambon enjoying some scene-stealing bits.

Hoffman, using Harwood’s snappy, perceptive screenplay, makes the most of the excellent possibilities with which he has to work, and he gives the film a romantic, heartfelt glow. Warmth and the human comedy spring from the screen to make this an audience-friendly bonbon. Past experience with films along such lines tells us that all is going to work out splendidly overall, with some heart-tugging along the way. Hoffman doesn’t miss opportunities, and he is to be congratulated on his first directorial expedition and encouraged to do more in his new capacity. A Weinstein Company release.


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