Thursday, 9 May 2013

Quartet - A Review

I am going to be brutally honest and sum up my opinion of this film in one word - disappointment.

Now I'll explain why that, sadly, my view is thus.

Quartet is about a home for retired musicians, but more than that, we're talking about divas and maestros all rubbing shoulders together in a rather lovely country house. Perfect basis for comedy with just a touch of bitter-sweet retrospect - at least that is what I thought. And the cast: well, some of Britain's best comedic actors, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Bill Connolly and Pauline Collins play our foursome of the title, plus there's Michael Gambon blustering away in the background and a host of other recognisable faces.

So, when the DVD arrived on my doorstep, I sat down eagerly in a prearranged viewing with my mother and father, who, being big fans of Maggie Smith, have been waiting for this movie since it was announced.

It started quite well. We are introduced to three of our four protagonists, Reggie (Tom Courtney), a rather sniffy, once lauded opera singer, Wilf (Billy Connolly), who is what he describes as a jobbing musician (also a rather good operatic singer), who has had a stroke and blames his lecherous activities on not being able to censor himself, and finally Cissy (Pauline Collins), who is a very sweet lady, with great memories of the glory days, but not too many memories of what she had for breakfast. They make an interesting trio, harping at each other, observing their world and, in Wilf''s case, making hell for Cedric (that's pronounced Seedric ;P Michael Gambon's bossy maestro who is taking the credit for organising the concert that is at the heart of the story even when others are doing most of the work).

However, my interest waned within about the first ten minutes. The reason being, I began to find everything about the film was muted, like I was viewing it through some dream that meant no-one could show their emotions. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about the directing, I think, that cut me off from the characters.

Be in no doubt, there was material enough for a good film in there, but let me address the failures in each:

  • a home for musical artists - a perfect opportunity for eccentricity and colourful characters, a mainstay of British comedy-drama. Yes, well, we got the odd flourish of colourful characters and the montage at the beginning started very well, but as the film began to concentrate of the four members of the quartet, I think the film lost that background, relying mostly on the buffooning of Michael Gambon and the concert committee with the odd skit from the residents thrown in as they practiced for the concert - it was all a bit remote.
  • a concert that has to be a success or the home will close and everyone will have to go into a world that doesn't understand their artistic temperaments.  I got the feeling, although it was just a hint, that the home catered to the needs of musicians in a way that other places didn't, but, like most of the rest of the film, I don't think enough was made of this. Sheridan Smith played Dr Lucy Coleman admirably, but it was all smiles and the occasional roll of eyes, there was no real interaction, nothing that showed us she was really worried about the future of the home, nothing to sink a connection with her character into.
  • a diva leaving her home and moving into a new environment. Jean (Maggie Smith), is a famous opera star who has had to leave her London home for the only reason we are told is that she is recovering from a hip op (not really a good reason IMO, I would liked to have known more, what made her decide she needed to go into a home, why did the hip op make her decide she was vulnerable). I love Maggie Smith, my favourite of her roles is in Gosford Park. However, quite frankly, her slightly broken diva was lack-lustre by any standards, again, I feel the hand of the director here. I wasn't looking for OTT temper tantrums and histrionics, but what diva there was visible seemed to have been instructed to under act, which threw away a lot of moments in passing in the film that should have made more of an impact.
  • An old romance that has left both parties damaged. Jean and Reggie were once an item, a married
    couple, in fact, and they parted on bad terms. Both thinks they made a mistake in leaving the other, but, of course, neither says it, and thus we have the 'drama' part of our comedy. Now, there were some wonderful lines written for Jean and Reggie for this part of the plot, but, and yes, I am repeating myself, they were delivered in such a throw-away tone that it took me a little while to catch up, and I know I was supposed to laugh at some of them, but the timing was all wrong and I just didn't. Even the inevitable ending to this missed romance was played in such a muted way, I had to make an effort to be happy about it.
  • trying to persuade Jean to sing in the concert. Jean doesn't want anything to do with the concert. Actually, a poignant bit of the movie that I will give it points for is the moment Jean confesses to Reggie that she gave up singing because she couldn't cope with the pressure of having to be better and  better. Now, this was an important fact, it should have informed much of the action at the end of the film, but, it didn't - there was some mumbling about just get out there and sing, but no tragicomedic moments around self doubt and not wanting to go on - at least, if there were, I missed them.

All in all, Quartet felt like there was a good movie wanting to get out of it somewhere, but opportunities, both dramatic and comedic wandered by without the right timing or emphasis they deserved. And I think the ending summed it up - the quartet the whole movie has been about, the piece of music these four are famous for singing together, was done off screen, in music only. Now, I know actors aren't singers and miming is not always effective and the director was doing it deliberately, but since everything else about the movie had been so muted, I wanted my uplifting moment, thank you very much, and what I got was a view of the country house and the credits.

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