Cecily, Reggie, and Wilfred are in a home for retired musicians. Every year, on October 10, there is a concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday and they take part. Jean, who used to be married to Reggie, arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva, but she refuses to sing. Still, the show must go on... and it does. Written by
What remarkable good fortune that Dustin Hoffman chose this Ronald Harwood play (and screenplay) for his directorial debut at age 75. This is a movie for actors, and there are many terrific performances in this wonderful ensemble piece about the residents of a home for aging musicians, which we saw at our movie preview club.
But the warmth of the story - the vibrancy of the seniors playing string quartets and practicing their cellos and clarinets, their friendships, annoyances, disappointments, and even loves - marks this film as something very special.
Hoffman has taken a beautiful English estate and turned it into a world of music filled with well-drawn and compelling characters: the woman with advancing dementia who relishes the CD of her performing Rigoletto 40 years ago; the flirtatious Wilf, whose "advances" towards the women on staff are never offensive and always charming; the aging diva - the always wonderful Maggie Smith - who is horrified by the thought that by moving in her life is over.
The best drawn (and in my mind, played) character is Wilf's best friend Reggie, who doesn't get Wilf's preferential treatment but has a quiet dignity and love of his life and his art that quietly shines through. His scene teaching students by comparing opera and rap may be this film's best.
Reggie is played by one of the most underrated and powerful British actors of his time, the estimable Tom Courtenay. It's hard to believe it's been 50 years since he starred as a 25-year-old in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. In a performance of grace, nuance, and elegance, Courtenay outshines even Maggie Smith. Perhaps he's inspired by working again from a Harwood screenplay; it was Harwood who wrote The Dresser, an excellent 1983 vehicle for Courtenay and Albert Finney.
One more note: Finney was apparently supposed to play the Wilf role, but unfortunately was not up to it health-wise. But comedian Billy Connolly's performance is just splendid.
See this movie!
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