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Quartet (1981)

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Marya Zelli (Isabelle Adjani) finds herself penniless after her art dealer husband, Stephan (Anthony Higgins), is convicted of theft. Marya accepts the hospitality of a strange couple, H.J. (Sir Alan Bates) and Lois Heidler (Dame Maggie Smith), who lets her live in their house.


James Ivory


Jean Rhys (novel), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Isabelle Adjani ... Marya Zelli
Suzanne Flon ... Mme. Hautchamp
Sébastien Floche Sébastien Floche ... Edouard Hautchamp (as Sebastien Floche)
Anthony Higgins ... Stephan Zelli
Maggie Smith ... Lois Heidler
Sheila Gish ... Anna
Daniel Chatto Daniel Chatto ... Guy
Paulita Sedgwick Paulita Sedgwick ... Esther
Alan Bates ... H.J. Heidler
Bernice Stegers ... Miss Nicholson
Isabelle Canto da Maya Isabelle Canto da Maya ... Cri-Cri (as Isabelle Canto Da Maya)
François Viaur François Viaur ... Lefranc
Wiley Wood Wiley Wood ... Cairn
Dino Zanghi Dino Zanghi ... Prison Guard
Michel Such Michel Such ... Prison Guard


It's 1927 Paris. Following the conviction of her art dealer husband, Stephan Zelli (Anthony Higgins), for theft for which he was handed a one-year prison sentence, Marya Zelli (Isabelle Adjani), originally from West India, moves in with her acquaintances, expatriate Brits H.J. (Sir Alan Bates) and Lois Heidler (Dame Maggie Smith). Marya knows that H.J. in particular has more in mind than just providing her lodging out of the goodness of his heart. From behind bars, Stephan encourages Marya to move in with them, not knowing H.J.'s intentions. Marya agrees in part because she, being a foreigner, cannot get work and would thus become destitute otherwise. She learns she is the latest in a long line of lodgers. She also learns that H.J. and Lois' marriage is not all that it appears on the surface. The Heidler's hold on Marya becomes stronger when they convince her that Stephan not only has no money, but has no future in France after his release. Their collective lives become more ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


R | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

Merchant Ivory Productions


UK | France


English | French

Release Date:

25 October 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Kvartett See more »

Filming Locations:

France See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$5,150, 5 May 2019

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Dame Maggie Smith appeared in another movie named Quartet (2012). However, the only similarities between the two movies are the title and Dame Maggie Smith. See more »


Marya 'Mado' Zelli: We always said we'd be together when you came out.
Stephan Zelli: You don't come out. Nobody ever comes out.
See more »

Alternate Versions

French dubbed version with French credit roll for French Release version. See more »


Featured in The Wandering Company (1984) See more »


The 509
Arranged by Luther Henderson
Written by Richard Robbins (uncredited)
Performed by Armelia McQueen (uncredited)
See more »

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User Reviews

too long for what it was
21 December 2016 | by blanche-2See all my reviews

"Quartet" from 1981 takes place in Paris in 1927.

Marya Zelli (Isabelle Adjani) and her husband Stephan (Anthony Higgins) in Paris and seem very much in love. One night, Marya and Stephan are in a club and Marya is summoned over to the table of the Heidlers, Lois and E.J. (Maggie Smith and Alan Bates). Lois is a painter and wants the stunning Marya to pose for her.

Stephan is selling stolen art and is arrested and given a one-year sentence. Marya has no work visa. The Heidlers invite her to live in their spare room, which she does.

It turns out that Heidler marriage isn't what it seems to the outside world. The reality is that Lois sort of procures pretty young women for her husband so that he'll stick around. Lois continues to visit Stephan in prison. But once released, he will have to leave Paris, and he will be broke. She's stuck -- she can't possibly be attracted to E.J., who is homely, but then again, it's either that or she lives on the street.

This is a story we've seen before, as in Sister Carrie, where a woman in those days had very few options. It's actually based on a novel by Jean Rhys, which tells the story of her relationship with Ford Maddox Ford.

Hard to believe this is a Merchant-Ivory film, but there it is. The film moves slowly, and at 1:45, it's too long and the people who made the picture knew it - we are treated to no less than three nightclub acts, and they're not short.

The acting, of course, is fantastic, particularly from Maggie Smith, as a woman desperate to hold onto her husband at any cost. Why, we don't know, because they probably don't have much if any sex life. Alan Bates transforms himself into a homely, paunchy man and does an excellent job as a boring satyr.

Until she destroyed her face with fillers and heaven knows what else, Isabelle Adjani was, by a mile, one of the most beautiful women in the world. It's hard to believe her character couldn't find some rich guy to marry and was settling for her unpleasant situation at the Heidlers. In the dresses of the period, she is exquisite. Her acting is excellent -- you can feel her frustration, depression, and acquiescence. Anthony Higgins has the smallest role but is very effective.

The film turned out to be a flat experience. It's a shame because such talent could have been involved in a much more involving story.

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