Tag Archives: michael gambon

Quartet

quartet soundtrackLet me start by saying I like the fact that UK filmmakers (and audiences) are unafraid of the aged population.  There are a number of incredibly brilliant English actors and actresses that still work regularly, that are older than three Hollywood actresses combined.  Similar to films like Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet celebrates and examines the lives of people (gasp!) over 50.  Compare this to US movies with older people (titles like RED and The Bucket List) and it becomes obvious that the UK versions of these movies are smaller, and spend far more time dealing with the everyday lives of everyday pensioners.  They have less glitz and more heart, and I find them far more relatable. I really look to them to gain perspective as I age.

That being said, I didn’t love Quartet. Sometimes these films are so small, so simple that I feel let down by a lack of more dramatic change amongst the characters assembled. I felt that way about this film at the end.

The story follows the lives of several retired opera singers and musicians, all of whom live in a private retirement home for ex-professional musicians.  First, I thought, what an immaculate place to spend your retirement years.  Surrounded by music and talented people.  On the other hand, several of the characters are (literally) divas, making life difficult for those around them.

Three best friends, all opera singers, have been living happily in this home for years. Billy Connolly (Brave) plays the lascivious, flirtatious, Wilf; Tom Courtenay (Little Dorritt) plays the Felix to his Oscar. Reginald is a bit uptight, but kind.

wilf and reginald

 

 

Their girl Friday is Cissy, the scatter-brained, good-natured, slightly bland friend.

Quartet_Cissy

The three have a fairly nice life.  The home is a good place to live, and they are surrounded by music.  The place is aflutter, preparing for an annual fundraising performance in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Everyone is being bossed around by Dumbledore Michael Gambon, a music director who embodies every bossy self-centered stereotype you can imagine. I mean, look at the man’s outfit.

QUARTET

 

 

Still, they are living a nice life and relatively peaceful.  Enter Jean Horton, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith.

Quartet SmithNot only is Jean a diva, but she is Reginald’s ex-wife.  They are incredibly awkward around each other, a situation made worse by Dumbledore’s insistence that this quartet perform their greatest song together at the fundraiser.

The film has a lot of good and interesting things to say about getting older, about letting go of the pressures of performance and the expectations of others.  Jean is nervous to sing again, convinced she won’t be able to sing as well as she did in her youth.  She worries that her fans will be disappointed.  Wilf informs her immediately that all of her fans are dead.

I liked the characters and I liked the story, but there was just a little too little action for the movie to hold my attention.  The acting was wonderful, the music gorgeous, but it was just a wee bit boring.  And having four brilliant actors is great, but they don’t actually do a lot of singing on camera.  They certainly do not sing the great opera song they supposedly perform at the end.  I understand why (not everyone is an opera singer; it’s not like learning to play the kazoo), but it feels like a bit of a cheat.  It feels like when you can clearly see that the stunt double is twice the height of the actor/actress they’re playing.

There was one strange bonus in this movie: Sheridan Smith, aka Rudi (Smithy’s sister) from Gavin and Stacey has shed her chavvy costume and looks like a proper professional woman in this movie?!

Sheridan+SmithI know she’s an actress, and not apparently an actual chav, but I did expect her to zoom off in her heelys at least once in the movie.  That didn’t happen, alas.

The DVD Shelves: Gosford Park

This is hardly a new movie, in fact it’s over 10 years old, but I had never seen it and it stars just about everyone in the British film industry.  It got 7 Academy Award nominations, so that put it at the top of my Netflix queue. And, as I seem to be making my way through the entire Julian Fellowes oeuvre, this was next on the list.

It’s commonly referred to as a mystery-comedy drama.  Whatever that is.  It seems to put its feet into every genre and not become a part of any of them.  I don’t think I knew what to make of it, not having heard much about it before hand.  It starts out like your typical upstairs-downstairs drama, in true Downton Abbey style, with the introduction of about 20 people upstairs and 20 downstairs, and alternates between the two worlds.  And of course it is remnicsent of a typical Agatha Christie work, with the murder mystery element.  But it isn’t quite either of these things.

Whatever can be said about its not being committed to a genre, the cast is spectacular.  Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillipe, Kristin Scott Thomas, the list goes on. Gambon (aka Dumbledore 2.0) stars as Sir William McCordle, who is murdered (not once, but twice!) after a dinner party. Stephen Fry also makes an appearance, as a completely idiotic detective.

The most bothersome part of the movie was how confusing it was at the beginning. I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the character’s names, or who was married to whom.  I had to look up the Wiki page to try to keep track of all the marriages, because after initial introductions there was a good hour of gossip back and forth between other characters.

I wanted to like it, and on the surface it has all the elements I like in a movie/story.  British? check.  Historical? check. At least two Harry Potter actors? check!  But for some reason it didn’t particularly resonate with me.  There was too much mystery for me to focus on the class system politics, and too much social commentary to focus on the mystery.  For me, it lacked focus.

That being said, there were a lot of fun/interesting moments, Clive Owen was delightful, and Maggie Smith was spectacular as always.  She was born to play an upper class lady from the first half of the 20th century, yes?

I found it particularly interesting that Stephen Fry’s Inspector Thomson declares (obviously I’m paraphrasing) that they won’t need to question the servants (about who murdered Sir McCordle), only to people who really new him.  This is such a ridiculous notion, given the intimate details that servants were privy to in such a household.  It actually reminded me of a short story called “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, where a man is found dead in his bed, and the police investigate while their wives wait downstairs in the kitchen and sitting room.  The men are examining the crime scene, while the women downstairs find all the evidence of the husband’s cruelty and the wife’s probable guilt in the murder.  The men don’t find any evidence where they look, and the women hide what they find.  The point of the story (or one of them) is that men (or those in power) often lack a true understanding of the world because of their elevated place in it, whereas the lower people on the social ladder can see the truth of the world in its entirety.  Similarly in Gosford Park, the servants are able to discern who and why the master of the house was murdered, and similarly the matter is hushed up by them on the basis of his whole-heartedly deserving it.