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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Quartet

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins star in a scene from the movie "Quartet."
Dustin Hoffman steps behind the camera for his directorial debut with "Quartet" (Weinstein), a comedy-drama about musical artists who face the ultimate curtain call: a date with the Grim Reaper.

Based on the play by Ronald Harwood (who also wrote the screenplay), "Quartet" casts senior citizens in the same warm and fuzzy glow as last year's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Amid the gags and catfights, however, lie serious reflections on the challenges of aging and a reminder to embrace the talents of our still-vital elderly.

Beecham House in the picturesque English countryside is a home for retired singers and musicians. As such, it's a haven for eccentrics and outsize egos, ringing true Bette Davis' famous observation, "Old age is not for sissies."

Impresario Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon) corrals the residents to put on a fundraiser every year on composer Giuseppe Verdi's birthday. His dream is to reunite four legendary opera singers who once performed the "Quartet" from Verdi's "Rigoletto."

"It would be as if Maria Callas made her comeback," he predicts.

The ensemble is made up of newly arrived, acid-tongued diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), her gentle ex-husband Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), dotty Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), who's in the early stages of dementia, and randy rogue Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly). Wilf, as he's known, is forever flirting with the young staff.

All of the singers are keen for the reunion, except Jean, who fears stepping into the spotlight again. "My gift deserted me," she tells Reginald.

"It deserted us all," he says. "It's called life."

Jean has an ulterior motive: to reconcile with Reginald, whom she abandoned for an affair with a rival tenor. She regrets the indiscretion, but Reginald is still bitter.

"I wanted a dignified senility," he muses. "Fat chance now that she's here."

Still, the show must go on, and nothing tempts an aging performer more than the smell of greasepaint and the glare of the footlights.

The salty language in "Quartet" and the script's rather juvenile obsession with sex (it's ripe with British euphemisms like "rumpy-pumpy") distract somewhat from the fun of watching the veteran actors perform as well as from the pleasures afforded by the glorious soundtrack.

The film contains sexual innuendo and some profane and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.

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