One who forgives an affront fosters friendship,
but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Dustin Hoffman has chosen to mark his debut as a film director with Quartet, an old-fashioned drama written by Ronald Harwood. If you liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you will enjoy this film about a group of retired musicians. Some members of the same cast are together again as residents of England’s Beecham House—Maggie Smith being most prominent. She plays Jean Horton, a diva newly arrived who has issues with Tom Courtney’s character, opera singer Reggie Paget. Jean is so renowned and respected that when she walks into the large reception area of the stately mansion, the residents all gather on the balcony overlooking it and give her a long round of applause. Revelatory of her inflated (but deserving) self-esteem is her look of approval, indicating that she believes this is befitting her. More than once she mentions that she never received less than 12 curtain calls at a performance.
Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins) and Wilfred “Wilf” Bond (Billy Connolly), also opera singers are hopeful that they can persuade Jean to join them and Reggie to form a quartet to sing a selection from Verdi’s Rigoletto. The home, named after the great conductor Sir. Thomas Beecham and administered by the young Dr. Lucy Corgan (Sheridan Smith), has fallen behind in paying its bills. When the randy old Wilf tries to hit on the attractive Luc, she deftly fends him off, but she apparently is having a harder time fending off bill collectors. The annual concert in honor of composer Verdi’s birthday must raise a substantial sum to save the home from closure. Hence the importance of getting Jean, and the even more reluctant Reggie to join up to sing the famous quartet from Rigoletto—news of their performance is bound to attract an audience able and willing to pay a high ticket price.
Reggie, before Jean’s arrival, had settled comfortably into the home after visiting his friend Wilf. In perhaps the most affecting scene of the film we see him teaching classical music appreciation to a group of teenagers. His openness to them is evident in his interchange with a hip-hop loving boy—and this openness in turn leads to the youth’s receptivity to him. Jean, just arrived, looks in on the class, and Reggie’s frosty look at her is so cold that we almost expect to see the breath of everyone in the room issue forth in a cloud. We learn that his bitterness toward her dates back to the time of their brief marriage when she cheated on him. Thus the film deals with reconciliation, as well as the old, old “we must pay the rent” theme. There is, of course, little doubt that The Show” will save the day: the fun is seeing how the characters will achieve their goal.
For Reflection & Discussion 1. There is a growing number of old age genre films: how does this film compare to some of the others, ranging from the dark Amour to the sprightly to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
2. Which character did you relate to the most? What are your reasons?
3. Just about everybody in the story still has the sense that they can use their gifts: how does this make a difference in their lives and that of the home? That is, compare life in this (admittedly idealized) home with that of some of the retirement homes that you have seen?
4. How is Reggie’s openness to young people an important factor in keeping his mind young? Have you seen this in your own life? (When I first began to offer film workshops, I was worried when invited to lead one at a retirement home—but those people turned out to be one of the most receptive groups I had taught, an experienced repeated at several elder hosts.)
5. How does Reggie’s holding back in forgiving Jean affect everyone, himself included? (See the above passage from Proverbs.)
6. How can playing with the metaphor of music add to our understanding of relationships; of shalom?