Last weekend when I rocked up at the cinema ticket counter with my mother we planned to see Quartet, only to find it sold out and ended up seeing Hitchcock instead. This weekend when we tried to see Silver Linings Playbook (would have been my second time) we found that it was sold out and ended up with tickets to Quartet instead. Us, and a sweetly murmuring bunch of 60 year olds smattered with a few humble teenagers.
From the first shot of an elegantly wrinkled woman warming her piano playing hands with the slight shake common with old age, I knew that this film would have my attention. It would also have my laughter and my tears the whole way through until the end. And it did. My nanna had that same shake, and though she did not play any kind of instrument, she did fill out crosswords with fantastic efficiency, until the trembling got so bad that her letters would squirm into the wrong boxes. But still she tried, as did every one of the characters in the charming and heroic tale that is Quartet.
The film is set in a grand old rest home for retired musicians, and not just any old tinkle the keys at Sunday sermon players, the women and men in here were the best. In his directorial debut Dustin Hoffman tells the story of four great opera singers coming to terms with old age, their stardom fading and their talents rusting up. Surrounding them, providing the back up chorus that makes every show tremendous, is the members of the home. The Vaudeville acts, the giggling temptresses from the Mikado, all of them finding their way through their second childhood. And oh my how reminiscent of a school yard it can be!
In amongst all of the fun, decadent surroundings and comedic stylings of Billy Connolly, or the spellbinding Maggie Smith, the underlying shadow of growing old is ever present. I don't mean any kind of kiddie notion of what life is like for the elderly, Quartet tells it honestly. There isn't just the shaking, nor the fear of dying, it is everyday on-going things that weave themselves deeply into our hearts. It is the seeing our friends whither, either through a lack of independence or illness. It's not being able to trust our footing, that any second might be the tumble that brings on a cloaking amnesia. But help us through all of that is the beauty and joy of life.