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Showing posts with label Dame Maggie Smith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dame Maggie Smith. Show all posts

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Catching up with Kristin - and her venerable ma

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 June

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 14 December 2012

Better as it was…

This is a review of Quartet (2012)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 December (Tweet added, 3 December 2014)

This is a review of Quartet (2012)

* Contains spoilers *

Ronald Harwood, in the Q&A that followed the gala screening of Quartet (2012) to support the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, did not really explain why he had written a film-script based on his stage-play (though I imagine that he had preferred to do so himself) - and, because it was by live relay from Leicester Square or the like, I did not have the means to ask.

Tweeted, the cover of the programme from Cambridge's Arts Theatre (@camartstheatre)...
I need to check, but I believe that Sir Ronald confirmed what I recollected, that the play just has the four characters, two men, two women, who constitute the quartet [now checked - correct (please see image above)]. By contrast, the film is busy with people, the residents and staff of a fictional (so we were told) Beecham House, which was located in a property near Taplow*, Hedsor House.

For me, that (unavoidable**) creation of an atmosphere in which the foursome of Jean (Maggie Smith), Cissy (Pauline Collins), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Reg(gie) (Tom Courtenay) can play out their drama did not enhance, but diluted the play’s strength: not quite in the way that some people find their favourite novel pictured awry on the screen, because I had no real notion of what the four were or – should be – like, but simply in terms of how the staging (in the production that I had seen) deliberately minimized the extraneous. With this film, it was as if Harwood were reinventing the depiction of a musicians’ retirement home, which he had hinted at and so, I believe, portrayed more effectively by its absence on stage***.

One of the biggest inventions, the larger-than-life impresario Cedric (played by Michael Gambon in finest Poliakoff-style excess), on his own swallows up the intimate nature of Harwood’s theatre, let alone the whole machinery of employees and their head, the – for me – implausible Dr Cogan, because, whatever she is a doctor of, Sheridan Smith did not seem to be it, evincing just a sweet feeling of being nice as the one in charge of the home, not of being capable of managing, whether domestic or medical.

For every minute that Cedric was bawling at people and posturing, though we were being given a classic Gambonesque treatment, we were not advancing the scenario of the original, but, perhaps unnecessarily, having demonstrated how a cock will rule the roost, and, therefore, steal the show from almost everyone except Dame Maggie. The quartet itself was, in consequence, diminished, rather than built up as the plausible class act that would close the proceedings.

In fact, director Dustin Hoffman's team filmed and recorded our quartet of British stars for two days, and then decided that we would not see that footage, but rather just their rapturous reception to the stage. In the Q&A, we were reminded that the play had the quartet miming to a recording, but that had been decided against, as was - in the event - the quartet’s bid to sing, in favour of a cut-away reverse-out of the lit-up Beecham House with a slow fade and a celebrated recording.

Would I have felt differently about this film, if Connolly had been nearly as funny as Wilf as he was in the Q&A ? Maybe, but he still would never have made me believe that he’d been in a legendary production of Rigoletto, any more than Courtenay or Collins did. Put against a real opera singer, Dame Gwyneth Jones as everyone’s pet-hate (especially Jean’s), Anne Langley, no one came close to resembling any opera-singer I’ve ever heard speak except Smith herself.

(Even looked at on the publicity flyer****, only Courtenay's anguished look and muffler come anywhere near to creating a feel of a tenor, supposing that Connolly is meant to be the bass - which is, though, unlikely to be the case, as Connolly's voice tends to the shrill, and the tenor is, of course, always the clown.)

The quartet number had to end the film, had to be the star turn in which I didn’t believe (or in the paucity of instrumentalists to provide the accompaniment, quite apart from whether accommodating an audience barely more than a handful could make any financial difference to the continued running of the place). And so the film felt as though it failed in its own terms - even though it sought to have the four's performance come out of the muddle and mess of life in the home as some sort of pleasing crowning glory : I can remember, with the version on stage, that one was almost willing them on to their triumph, which I truly lacked feeling here.

It could not have been different, however Harwood had cut the cake, and in writing an unexceptional film he has ruined any posterity for a perfectly good play : probably he put it on the screen because its life has run, but I do wish that he had just turned his energies to something, like The Dresser (1983), that transferred to film with less loss of concentration. If, though, I am wrong, and what I have already suggested was his motivation, to work over a piece with which he could no longer rest content, then I feel little different, that, in trying to breathe life into it, he has effectively buried it.


* There is now no such retirement home for musicians, though there may have been, but there is one for actors, to which this fictional one owes some detail, we were told. (Rather irrelevantly, perhaps, Taplow is the name of the schoolboy in The Browning Version (Rattigan).)

** Cinema that just reproduces a play is, for me, a waste of the medium – the film had to give the backdrop in a way that the literal backdrop of a stage does not require.

*** That said, maybe Harwood was writing for cinema out of a dissatisfaction, at some point, with his stage work : if it was out of that impulse, to give the richness here that a realization on stage could not do (except with some elaborate cast and machinery more redolent of the big musical, when the play is a chamber work), I sense it as a clash with, not as a complement to, the quartet and that the pared-down was more eloquent.

**** Even assuming that he may not have approved it, how can Harwood not squirm at the tag-line ? : Four friends looking for a little harmony.