“Growing older isn’t for sissies,” as Cissy (Pauline Collins) often says. The former singer lives in Beecham Home for the musically inclined along with other retired performers. Among them is Wilf (Billy Connolly), an opera singer who still talks like a hormone-driven adolescent. His boyish antics are tolerated, though not encouraged, by the staff and other residents. Reginald (Tom Courtenay) is the third member of Wilf and Cissy’s old quartet. In comparison to Wilf, he is a refined man who gives music lectures to visiting high school students.
One day, a scurry of activity announces the arrival of a new resident—Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). For Reginald (Reggie), Wilf and Cissy, Jean’s arrival means their old singing group is complete just in time for the home’s annual fundraising event. And the event’s organizer Cedric (Michael Gambon) hopes to have the quartet reunite for the concluding performance of the show. However, Jean has long since stopped performing, afraid of faltering in front of her fans. Reggie also hesitates to warmly embrace the reunion for reasons that take time to unfold.
But while their faces are wrinkled and their voices tremble on occasion, life isn’t over for these retirees. And moving beyond the applause and adulation they experienced in their prime becomes a challenge for each of them as they search for a new tune to sing.
The acting ensemble of Connolly, Collins, Courtenay and Smith, along with characters played by real life opera singer Dame Gwyneth Jones, stage star Trevor Peacock and performer Andrew Sachs, brings a wealth of experience and feeling to this story. Each of the characters views the golden years of their lives with varying degrees of aplomb and distress. Many have sacrificed family and marriage for the sake of career and now face a future of loneliness. Some are losing their minds. Some are losing their physical abilities. Some fear the faces they see in the mirror. And Director Dustin Hoffman, a age 75, deftly captures these conflicts in his first directorial role since his un-credited debut in the 1978 film Straight Time.
Although unlikely to appeal to teens and children, parents should note the film contains three strong sexual expletives along with a smattering of milder profanities. Wilf also contributes plenty of sexual-driven comments, and implied sexual activity involves two young unmarried employees of the retirement home.
However, for those audience members approaching or well into their golden years, Quartet reminds viewers that while life may become more difficult, it doesn’t have to end until the final curtain drops.