Time for a Drama Queen night out at the movies but not, perhaps to see Dame Maggie in Quartet. Having bemoaned the paucity of Maggie Smith one-liners in the Downton Christmas Special we determined to be smartly in line to see Quartet on its first release day. It is almost her own show – well apart from at least five other BIG British headliners – set in a home for retired musicians. So, surely a Dustin Hoffman directorial debut, with Dame Maggie et. al. could not be more preposterous than Downton? Oh Yes it can.
There are some interesting moments in this very small story about a group of old music performers, attempting to keep their retirement home open by mounting a spectacular annual gala (‘Hey Guys, we could put the show on here’ – whoops different movie?) The Gala’s star attraction falls out but an even bigger star attraction (Dame Maggie of course) walks in the door of the home but, alas, has refused to sing again and has to be persuaded to perform with the three other singers (who are conveniently also in the same home) and save the day. Oh yes! and resolve the (only) bit of dramatic tension that finds her estranged first husband (Tom Courtney) resolved to ignore her because … Oh alright, I won’t be a spoiler then.
But why is it that plays/screenplays by women have met constant criticism for a perceived limited concern with the domestic? Ronald Harwood’s screenplay does have some touching moments and a few smiles but blink, and you could miss them, between Billy Connolly trying to act old and doddery enough, Tom Courtney, being Tom Courtney and Pauline Collins being really very touching. Dame Maggie is sublime in a quite different but equally valiant tussle with an impossible script. She is outclassed by only one element – the retirement home. IT IS GORGEOUS. And surely an amalgam of several locations. Anyone who has had anything to do with retirement homes at any level, and of all economic levels, will certainly have to suspend disbelief at this one: the rooms, the furnishings, the grounds, the carers and most of all, the other inmates. I’m left hoping for a similarly luscious landscape in which the retirement home for feminist academics could be established…why should retired musicians have all the best rest homes?
But then I remember Baz Kershaw giving us a glimpse of the potential with an invitation to ‘visit’ colleagues in their home for retired academics at PSi Utrecht shift. We were encouraged to take gifts for the residents. Kim Mara and I took chocolate for Tracy C. Davis. Alarming. And what home has a resident Dr. on duty 24 hrs a day as gorgeous and calm and understanding as Sheridan Smith? and what was she so moved by and so amused with all the time? Michael Gambon’s extensive range of dressing gowns perhaps? Dustin Hoffman directs us into a world of luxury that would defy any bank balance via a script that demands a bit more twist in the geriatric cup of cocoa.
This said, I love that there is an appetite for makers and audiences to have more creative vehicles for older actors and actresses (Churchill’s Love and Information & Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax were highlights last year). The cast from top down and bottom up could have delivered so much more with better material and they saved and savoured what was there to be enjoyed. The closing title sequence is a treat – and someone should just write Dame Maggie her own series…..with lots of great slots for guest cameo appearances.