Movie review: “Quartet”

quartet movie

There’s a certain kind of movie: you take mature actors and give them a simple drama with a simple framework, and you let them have fun with it.

“The Whales of August” was one of these movies. So was “Autumn Sonata.” So was “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

And now we have “Quartet.”

It has the simplest of simple plots: a group of elderly musicians in a retirement home. They still sing, and play, and recall their former glory. Then a great diva (Maggie Smith) comes to live there, which greatly disturbs another resident, her former husband, a great tenor (Tom Courtenay). Their friends, the sweetly demented Cissy (Pauline Collins) and the randy Wilf (Billy Connolly), heckle and coax them from the wings.

But the big gala is coming up. Will the four of them reunite to sing the quartet from “Rigoletto,” as they’d done so gloriously five decades before?

Well, yes, of course they will.

The joy is in the acting: Billy Connolly’s bright-eyed mischief-making, Pauline Collins weaving in and out of reality. Michael Gambon plays the impresario, and I swear he’s wearing his Dumbledore outfit, and he yells at everyone. Also, there are a bunch of real musicians, vocalists and instrumentalists, who came out of retirement to perform here, and they are all wonderful. (There’s a trio of elderly retired sopranos who reprise “Three Little Maids From School,” in costume yet, and they’re wonderful.)

You will not be surprised to hear that the audience (here in the Avon Cinema, a small local movie-theater on the east side of Providence) was mostly older – even older than Partner and me together (combined age 121!). This is an older person’s movie. One of the most resonant messages is this: during the credits, we see the names of the actors and performers one by one, accompanied by pictures of them when they were younger. The message is that growing old is hard, but that life is not over until it’s over.

The ultimate cliché in this kind of movie is to have someone die; it’s usually the turning point, the “message.” It doesn’t happen here. It’s not necessary. We know all too well what’s going to happen.

And in the meantime, we can still make some music.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

2 Responses to Movie review: “Quartet”

  1. starproms says:

    I can’t wait to see this film. I so enjoyed ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and am delighted to see that this is following. It is out here. I just haven’t been to see it yet. Maggie Smith went to press saying there weren’t enough films made for older people. She has a point! She is also doing her best to right that wrong, I noticed. She’s a brilliant actress isn’t she. You write very good reviews without spoiling it for us who have yet to see. Thank you.

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