Review: Quartet (12A)

4:47pm Friday 4th January 2013

If you want a waspish one-liner delivered with impeccable timing and venom, gift it to Dame Maggie Smith.

Almost 60 years after her first TV appearance, the award-winning star continues to reduce grown men half her age to quivering wrecks with delicious barbs and withering glances.

She pursed her lips with gusto as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, brought humanity to a racist, xenophobic widow in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and continues to scene-steal as the imperious Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey.

Smith is armed with a plentiful supply of verbal grenades in Quartet, a gentle comedy adapted for the screen by Ronald Harwood from his own acclaimed stage play. It’s light and frothy fare, with a generous glaze of sentiment, which marks an assured directorial debut for Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman.

His film unfolds largely within Beecham House, a retirement home for opera singers and musicians who are in the twilight of their glorious careers.

Run with a gentle yet firm touch by on-staff medic (Sheridan Smith), the facility heaves with eccentrics. Three of the residents — Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) - once performed Verdi’s quartet from Rigoletto as part of a celebrated quartet.

The unexpected arrival of the group’s fourth member, Reg’s ex-wife Jean (Maggie Smith), sends shockwaves through Beecham House.

Once Jean adjusts to the gentle ebb and flow of daily life at the home and rebuilds bridges that were burnt to a cinder, she rediscovers her passion for performance.

DAMON SMITH

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