Divatude Suits Maggie Smith
My first glimpse of Maggie Smith came many years ago, but I remember it quite vividly. The movie? The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She played the title role, of course, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Although Maggie’s character in Quartet boasts some of the same pride “that comes before a fall” she displayed so masterfully as a headstrong young teacher back in 1969, she’s also much more vulnerable as an iconic opera diva trying to reconcile with her ex-husband in their later years. Both films showcase an actress who certainly knows how to command the screen and make viewers care about the person she’s portraying. In Quartet, Maggie receives strong support from first-time director Dustin Hoffman and veteran actors Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. The poignant yet humorous script by Ronald Harwood also adds to the quality of this outstanding production.
Set in a home for retired musicians and opera singers, the movie centers around preparations for an annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Plans are disrupted when Jean (Maggie Smith) enters the fold. Her operatic stardom may be on the wane, but she still acts like a prima donna. And when Reginald (Tom Courtenay) realizes Jean is in their midst, he panics. He would rather NOT even see her again. After all, she divorced him long ago and he’s over her now!
But Jean has other ideas. It’s simply delightful watching the relationship between these two estranged individuals slowly re-ignite right before our very eyes. However, the road to true love -- *even for a second time, which I can personally attest to -- was never smooth, so be prepared for a few ups and downs as the story progresses.
In particular, there’s a great deal of concern over whether or not Jean will participate in the birthday celebration. She’s been invited to be a member of an important vocal quartet that also includes Reginald, Wilfred (Billy Connolly), Cedric (Michael Gambon), and Cisssy (Pauline Collins). These three need Jean in order to deliver a knock-out performance. What makes Jean so afraid to take part?
Each character comes across as completely believable here, faults and all. Still, I think Collins stands out with her endearing portrayal of a woman with serious memory problems. And Courtenay appears very charming in my favorite scene showing Reginald conducting a fascinating musical appreciation class for teenagers.
During a time when our big screens reek with violence, explosions, and torture, it’s refreshing to see a film like Quartet sneak up on us and deliver a humanistic message about the value of friends, music and love -- at any age.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “PG-13” for brief strong language and suggestive humor.)
For more information about Quartet, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.
*See IT HAD TO BE US, the award-winning romantic memoir my husband and I co-wrote under the pen names of Harry and Elizabeth Lawrence.