Some friends came to visit this past weekend, and we had planned to see Gangster Squad (for Ryan, obviously) at the cinema on Saturday night. However, in sub zero temperatures, a trek to the nearest multiplex didn’t appeal, so we settled for my local dinky two screen cinema. They were only showing Les Miserables or Quartet, and as we were in the mood for something uplifting, the choice was made for us. I am of the mindset that anything with Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon in it can’t possibly be bad, so we went into the cinema with high expectations for a lovely viewing experience. When we realised that we were easily the youngest people in the cinema by a good forty years, we knew we’d made the right decision. As my old flatmate always used to say about restaurants in New York, if old people are in there, it’s got to be good.

Beecham House is an idyllic retirement home for former musicians; filled with a range of talents, from pianists to opera singers, the tranquil grounds of the beautiful stately home are positively vibrating with the sound of music. As the film opens, the House is a hive of activity. The residents are preparing for the annual Verdi birthday gala, which this year is even more vital than usual, because if they don’t raise enough funds through ticket sales, Beecham House will have to close. Everyone has to perform, and intensive rehearsals are presided over by the eccentric, dictatorial former Opera Director Cedric, played perfectly by Michael Gambon. A group of three friends; Wilf, Reggie and Cissy, all former opera singers, are enjoying the preparations until a shock new arrival throws everything into disarray.

Jean Horton, magnificently played by Maggie Smith, was one of the greatest opera singers of her day. However, in recent years she has seen her fortunes fade, and she has reluctantly arranged to sell up and move into Beecham House. She is met with much excitement by all of the residents except one; Reggie. He and Jean were once married, and he has never forgiven her betrayal of him. Jean is anxious to heal the rift, but Reggie can’t even bear to be in the same room as her. Eager to help, Cissy hits on a cunning plan. With the success of the Gala having such importance this year, Jean would be a huge draw. For reasons of her own, she refuses to perform. But what if Reggie can convince her to sing the legendary quartet from Rigoletti she, Reggie, Cissy and Wilf once performed to such acclaim? Could they save Beecham House, and reunite the quartet of once fast friends?

Quartet is wonderfully entertaining, with excellent performances throughout, but it is also a profoundly moving tale of the struggles of growing older and facing your own mortality. Wilf and Reggie are watching Cissy slowly slide into the clutches of dementia, and Jean listens to her old records in her room, bewildered at how quickly she has gone from one of the most famous divas of the operatic world to a forgotten old woman. Once the residents played to crowds of thousands and grand accolades; now they are reduced to putting on a show in a retirement home dining hall in order to keep a roof over their heads.

This could be profoundly depressing, but somehow, it isn’t. As the final scenes play out, the characters demonstrate that there is always hope, always beauty, always laughter, right up until the very end. We might change, and we might become unable to do the things we have done in the past, but old age presents new opportunities and challenges that allow us to continue to develop and grow as people, and find happiness in new and different ways. I loved the end credits, where it showed old photographs of all the extras in the film, who were once professional musicians. It really touched me to think of the wonderful lives they have lead, and how easy it is to dismiss elderly people without even stopping to think of how much they have seen and done and overcome throughout their lifetimes. I left the cinema feeling humbled, moved and uplifted. Oh, and with a new appreciation for Opera; the soundtrack is sublime. You must see it!

p.s. watching this also made me think about starting up my own retirement home in a similarly idyllic location when the time comes for me to put my feet up. It would be for likeminded literary types, of course, and have an amazing library with a fire and tea on tap and all the books I love. To get a room in my luxurious residence, you’d have to answer a questionnaire about your literary tastes to ensure compatibility. If you’d never heard of Dorothy Whipple, your application would have to go straight in the bin!


  1. Jayne says:

    Love reading your posts, but I do wish you would not give away so much of the plots– for movies and books. I have had to learn to stop half way through. Thanks for inspiring me to check out so many things !

    1. bookssnob says:

      Sorry! Though the only plot I have described for Quartet all gets revealed in the first fifteen minutes or so, so I promise I haven’t given much away! πŸ˜‰ Glad I’ve still convinced you to give plenty of things a try! πŸ™‚

  2. I so want to see this, Rachel! I have been waiting patiently ever since I heard about it but it still has not been widely released here in North America. When it does arrive, you can count on me being at the theatre opening weekend!

    As for your literary retirement home, I like the sound of that. But there is always the danger of people’s taste being too similiar – just think of the fights that could occur in the library as residents compete for a popular book!

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know you’d love it, Claire! Well there is that…I’d have to be very careful to select the right blend in order to ensure domestic harmony. I can see it now! Cosiness will reign supreme!

  3. I hope I would make it into your retirement home! I own some Whipples so hopefully that’s me over the first and most important hurdle πŸ™‚

    1. bookssnob says:

      I reckon I’d probably let you in! πŸ˜‰

  4. Oh, this looks like a terrific movie. I would love it. I am so much closer to being called elderly than you or most of your readers. I hope there is a lovely retirement home for me to go to if I ever need such care. I would so miss my country rambles.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I think you’d really enjoy it, Janet. I’m sure there would be…if not, I shall set one up for you! πŸ™‚

  5. AJ says:

    Sounds like a lovely movie and a lovely retirement home … although I don’t think I’d mind if someone hadn’t heard of one of my favorite writers — so much fun to introduce loved authors to congenial souls. I read my first Whipple after reading one of your posts. So I guess I’d have to identify my residents by the writers they call their favorites. I’m pretty sure I could never live with a Norman Mailer or Henry Miller fan. But I’d love tea every afternoon with the admirers of the Provincial Lady and Miss Buncle.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Well yes, that is true. It’s always a thrill to introduce someone to a new favourite, isn’t it? I think retirement would be quite lovely in a big stately home with everything provided, including a library and people with whom to have good conversation. I shall seriously have to put together a business plan!

  6. debbierodgers says:

    This sounds wonderful! I haven’t heard of it, and I know it will never show at a theatre here in Nova Scotia so I’ll have to get it on DVD. Thanks for telling me about it!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hopefully it will come your way, Debbie, but if not, it’s definitely one for the DVD collection!

  7. mary says:

    I knew you’d like this! You should have a look at the original Italian documentary that the play is based on. It’s heartrending, even if you don’t speak Italian – it doesn’t really matter. Have a feeling I linked to it when I wrote about the film last year. (If you can’t find it, tell me and I’ll dig it out!)

    1. bookssnob says:

      What, is there REALLY a home like this in the world? Amazing! I’ll see if I can find it Mary!

  8. mary says:

    PS Didn’t Diana Athill write about being in a home like you describe? Trouble is, although of course one would love to be in a home with elevated literary types … what happens if they’re not so thrilled to be landed with me? Actually, I don’t think I want to be in a home full of genteel Persephone fans drinking tea … could you open a more rackety branch with bottles of Scotch next door?

    1. bookssnob says:

      Well this is true…snobs would not be allowed. I’d interview each applicant – you’d be alright, Mary. AND there’d be a very well stocked drinks cabinet!

  9. flat stanley says:

    I think someone has beaten you to setting up the perfect literary retirement home. There was a BBC2 or C4 documentary a few years back. Only for women (unless it was no men made the grade or age) well educated and all career women of their day and located somewhere near Hampstead Heath . I remember one resident interviewed in her room which was piled ceiling high with books. No sitting in a circle in the lounge here – which must surely be purgatory on earth !
    I believe there is a waiting list , do you think it’s like Eton or Harrow and you have to put your name down at birth !?

    1. mary says:

      That’s the one where Diana Athill is, now I remember seeing the programme!

    2. bookssnob says:

      How exciting! I’d love to retire in Hampstead – the perfect mix between town and country. I’ll have to put my name down now!!

  10. teamgloria says:

    divine idea.

    not just dorothy whipple but noel streatfeild (saplings, of course) and the movies of clara bow and louise brooks and – wouldn’t it be fun?

    we’re trying to work out how to join the motion picture union here in los angeles (just moved here from nyc after leaving england in 2001) so we can go here when the time comes: http://www.mptf.com/residential

    waving from L.A

    love your blog.

    _teamgloria x

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh of course – and what an amazing place that retirement community looks! That is what I am aiming for – though more British. We don’t have the climate for such villas! Thank you very much, so glad you’re enjoying reading! πŸ™‚

  11. flat stanley says:

    Right for all those that want to book their space now ! ‘Mary Feilding House’ Highgate nr Hampstead Heath & Kenwood – what more could you need.
    As Ms Athills also thought there would be a waiting list but her friend Rose (age 100) said ..oh don’t worry about that we’re dying off all the time. To live surrounded by realist dreamers, perfect.

    1. mary says:

      Rose would be Rose Hacker who started writing a newspaper column when she was 100.

      1. mary says:

        Incidentally, in her younger days Rose was one of the mothers (long before blogs) who formed the correspondence circle that features in Jenna Bailey’s book Can Any Mother Help Me? If you haven’t read it, Rachel, you’d love it.

      2. bookssnob says:

        Mary, you’re a mine of info – I shall track that book down!

    2. bookssnob says:

      I’m putting my name down!

  12. flat stanley says:

    Oh it’s getting late and glasses are upstairs ! GUILD not House (whoops)

  13. Waiting. Patiently, waiting. Okay, not patiently – to see Quartet. Your review is, as it always is, provocative, Rachel, and now I must go out and see if I can find an old mansion for my old age. Actually, in the town I used to live it, several of us would sit over coffee in the local shop and plot how we could buy a very old house just a few blocks away and all stay there in our dotage. Unfortunately, it was torn down. Just as well. None of us could afford it. Sigh.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I hope you can manage to see it, Penny – I’m sure you’ll love it! Oh, what a lovely idea – that is just the sort of thing I would like. I am such a social creature and would enjoy having people around me in a gorgeous big house where I could chat and potter to my heart’s content!

  14. Catie says:

    I love the sound of that retirement home! I’m sure it would always be full. πŸ™‚

    1. bookssnob says:

      I think it would be overrun! πŸ™‚

  15. EllenB says:

    First of all, you will adore Miss Ranskill Comes Home. It is not at all twee and actually, though funny in part, quite profound. I, too, ignored it for many years and when I finally got around to it (they have it in the library), I regretted that I had waited so long.

    Second, there is a waiting list for my copies of The Cazalet Chronicle, but I do hope to have all 4 installments ready for you in April.

    Third, I am loving the Persephone book of short Stories and finally, when will your retirement home be opening its doors? I will be your first resident. xxxooo

    1. bookssnob says:

      Well, on your recommendation, Ellen, I shall have to try it! I’m sure I will loveit if you say I will.

      Oooh can’t wait! Nearly bought the first one the other day but realistically no time to read all four at the moment – definitely worth waiting for a long holiday to submerge myself, I think.

      It’s a working business plan, Ellen…I’ll see what I can do. I would love to have you! πŸ™‚ xx

  16. Caroline says:

    I love your idea for a retirement home… but I’ve never read any Dorothy Whipple! Fortunately school is closed today because of the snow and there is a copy of Someone at a Distance available at my local library. I’m going to finish my cuppa, get my wellies on and walk to get it. Very excited about the prospect of a new author and an afternoon curled up by the fire. Thank you for the inspiration. Love your blog x

    1. bookssnob says:

      Well, get cracking and then you can come in! What a lovely way to spend a snow day – I hope you’re enjoying Someone at a Distance so far! You are welcome and it’s lovely to have you reading! x

  17. onemorechapter says:

    May I put my name down now for a place at your Retirement Home…?!
    Someone at a Distance is my favourite Whipple and could the tea be Fairtrade loose leaf Tanzanian please?

    1. bookssnob says:

      Indeed you may…I shall note your tea preference! πŸ™‚

  18. Darlene says:

    There is a retirement home in Burlington with a sundae bar just off of the lobby, that’s the one I have my eye on here! It goes without saying though that if I’m in my dotage and in England then I’ll look you up. Hoping to see Quartet this Sunday, Rachel, and did you know that Ryan grew up in my neighbourhood? Taylor went to the same high school and Mr G pops up in town every now and then. Livens up our local paper every now and then.

    1. bookssnob says:

      That sounds amazing! Though of course we can make provision for you if you so choose! Great – I know you’ll love it. AND REALLY?!?! I would die for just a glimpse, Darlene!!

  19. Darlene says:

    That’s too many ‘now and thens’…oops.

  20. sue says:

    l loved this movie which I saw on Boxing Day; the theatre was packed.

    I’m so glad you mentioned the end credits – most impressive and so enjoyable to see pictures of the musicians, singers and actors in their prime. I thought Tom Courtney as Reggie was superb and I loved the chap from the Vicar of Dibley (can’t recall his name) it was all the better for being low key and the music was great.

    Glad you have reviewed the movie and inspired people to see it.

    1. bookssnob says:

      So glad you saw it, Sue, and enjoyed it so much – those end credits really made it for me, I have to say. I hope plenty of people will see it – it’s one of those films that really touches you.

  21. Jenny says:

    Hahahaha, I haven’t read Dorothy Whipple (yet) but can I still come live at your putative retirement home in my twilight years? I promise I would read Dorothy Whipple once I got there.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Only if you PROMISE, Jenny. πŸ˜‰

  22. Nicola says:

    Highly amusing post! Loved what you said about being the youngest in the cinema! When I went to see Anne Tyler at Oxford I heard someone say – is there anyone under 50 here? I was – but only just!!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hahaha – this happens to me far too often, which just goes to show that I am prematurely middle aged!

  23. Daystarz Books says:

    Looking forward to going to see this with my Mum.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I hope you both enjoy it! πŸ™‚

  24. Sweet Fanny Adams says:

    I saw this over a year ago at Guildford theatre. I think it was one of Susannah York’s last performances. Glad to see they have made it into a film. Good review by the way.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I wish I’d seen the play! Thanks – I hope I’ve convinced you to see the film!

  25. Hehe, love this post! There are so many films I want to see at the moment (*such little time* sigh). Will try to rent this one when it becomes available though. Also, please may I be allowed into your retirement home? πŸ˜‰

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know you’d love this Miranda! Such a touching film. Yes of course…you shall have the room right next to me πŸ™‚

  26. Simon T says:

    I saw the film last night – so, so good! How have I not known about Pauline Collins before? She is such a sublime actress – such an empathetic performance.

    And OBVIOUSLY I want in on the retirement home. Like, seriously.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh so glad you’ve seen it and loved it Simon! Have you seen Shirley Valentine? Pauline Collins was the lead in that and it’s a brilliant film. I thought she was amazing as well – Maggie got all the praise but Pauline carried the film in my opinion.

      Oh of course. Your place is already reserved, don’t you worry!

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