I was rather distressed to hear on the news today that Billy Connelly has been diagnosed with both prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease. I was even more distressed to then have to explain who Billy Connelly is to a work colleague. I assumed everyone would be aware of him, what with him being a bit marvellous and all. (For those who don’t know, he’s a boisterous Scottish comedian with excessively loud taste in trousers and also quite a knack for acting). Happily his publicist confirmed that the operation to treat his prostate cancer was a complete success, and that he is now undergoing treatment for the Parkinson’s disease but has absolutely no plans to slow down any time soon. Hurrah for that! So if you want to appreciate a spot of classic Connelly acting, but don’t quite have the emotional stamina for the rather wonderful Mrs Brown, then I would suggest sitting down with a nice cuppa and perhaps a hobnob for the rather endearing Quartet instead.
Quartet is a rather twee film along the lines of the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which you can read a review of here). It was originally performed as a play (with different actors), and has been converted into film format under the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman (who apparently has a cameo, but I couldn’t spot him. To be fair I didn’t know to look out for him at the time, but nobody particularly Hoffmanish managed to catch my eye). It is set in a retirement home for professional musicians and opera stars, based on a real retirement home set up by Giuseppe Verdi. Every year the residents hold a fundraising gala to keep the home going, and when Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) arrives, residents Reg (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connelly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) try to persuade her to join them in singing the Rigoletto, which the foursome were famous for performing in their younger days. The only problems are that Jean and Reg used to be married and aren’t on speaking terms, and Jean has refused to ever sing publicly again. Naturally it’s up to Wilf and Cissy to persuade everyone to pull together and raise money for the home.
I will admit, in terms of plotline there’s not an awful lot to the story, and considering the big names that were involved (i.e. Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith) I was a touch disappointed with the result. I had wanted to see Quartet in the cinema and missed it, but when I watched it on DVD I realised there wasn’t an awful lot more to it than what was included in the trailer. Still, it was enjoyable and occasionally funny (and passed an evening spent on my own), so I can’t really complain. And it didn’t turn out to have a weepy moment in it, which I must confess was rather a surprise. Considering it’s a sentimental story about people in their twilight years, I thought somebody was bound to get killed off by the end, and I was rather glad when they all (just about) made it through. Maggie Smith is always wonderful, that’s both common knowledge and a true fact. Billy Connelly’s character Wilf provided some night light-hearted humour with his constant flirting with poor Sheridan Smith, although I think the funniest moments were actually Maggie Smith getting angry and swearing. That’s just not something I expect from Professor McGonagall or the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey! The character of Cissy was rather sweet and endearing (old age is not for sissies!), and I thought it was especially lovely how Reg and Wilf became more and more protective of her as she became more confused, although I generally found it a bit hard to warm to Reg as he was rather cruel to Jean at times (and I do love Maggie).
What was really lovely though, and quite unexpected actually, were the credits. It turns out that a lot (if not all) of the extras, singers and musicians in the film were actually professional singers and musicians from the world of opera, and the credits were filled with wonderful photos of them in their younger performing days. I had thought it was a little odd that I only really recognised the main six or so cast members, and that’s because the others were all stars in their own field which I was unfamiliar with. I thought it was such a nice idea to have all of their photos in the credits though, it really ended the film on a warm and fuzzy note for me. So, if you want to watch Billy Connelly in a wonderful drama filled with emotion and superb acting by both him and Judy Dench, watch Mrs Brown. But if you fancy watching something with superb acting by Maggie Smith, something that will make you smile and feel content without exhausting the old emotions, watch Quartet instead.