Beecham House is abuzz. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it's a star. For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they're in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard. Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert?
Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman has never been one to zig when he can zag. Not only did he wait until he was in his mid-70s to direct his first feature film, but his crowd-pleasing adaptation of Ronald Harwood's 1999 play is a thoroughly British affair. Set at one of England's most scenic estates, the fictional Beecham House for Retired Musicians, Quartet centers on four opera singers. Cecily (Pauline Collins), Wilfred (Billy Connolly), and Reginald (Tom Courtenay, who appeared in Harwood's The Dresser) are busy preparing for the annual Verdi Gala when word spreads about a famous new resident. After Reggie catches sight of the elegant figure, his excitement about the benefit gives way to sorrow: it's his ex-wife, Jean (Downton Abbey's Maggie Smith). If the amusingly acid-tongued Jean appears to have moved on--she's married twice since--Reggie hasn't, and still blames her for the failure of their brief marriage. Under the directorship of the supremely self-satisfied Cedric (Michael Gambon), the entire facility continues to rehearse for the concert, except Jean, who says she's retired from singing, though her former partners long to perform their acclaimed version of Verdi's Rigoletto. As they concentrate on persuading her to reconsider, the ice between Reggie and Jean starts to thaw just as Cissy's memory starts to fade, but priorities shift as old friends become reacquainted. If Quartet doesn't offer many significant surprises, Hoffman skillfully honors the humor, the romance, and the wall-to-wall music--most played by veteran performers--of Harwood's warm-hearted script. --Kathleen C. Fennessy