Film review by John Campbell
If I could be assured that, in my dotage, I will be shunted off to an old people’s home that is anything like the one in which this cosy and endearing piece is set, I would not dread the approach of my twilight years nearly so much – being in the charge of a caring, beautiful blonde doctor (Sheridan Smith) wouldn’t be entirely objectionable either.
Beecham House (after Sir Thomas, the famous conductor), a gorgeous stone manor surrounded by what looks like a manicured Capability Brown landscape, is the last port of call for retired classical musicians. I did not believe for one minute that Billy Connolly (as Wilf) might one day have been an opera singer of renown, but it’s a piffling matter, for he, in ensemble with Tom Courtenay (Reggie), Pauline Collins (Cissy) and Maggie Smith (Jean), are all on-song and playing to type.
Wilf, the waggish Lothario (‘your music brought tears to my ears’) and the others are called upon to sing a quartet from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at an upcoming gala fundraiser (2013 marks the composer’s centenary). The group’s major hurdle is to overcome the recalcitrance of Jean, from whom Reggie was bitterly estranged until she arrived unannounced at Beecham.
In his directorial debut, Dustin Hoffman does not hit a false note. This is the work of a veteran who has been in a lot of movies and, aiming to please, knows unerringly how to achieve that goal. Gently paced, with just the right balance of light and shade – albeit without ever scratching very deeply below the surface of occasional despair at physical decline and the recurring melancholy that goes hand in glove with constant memory – honesty and hope prevail.
The latter virtue is underscored by a shrewd but essential inclusion of young people, including a surprisingly touching scene in which a black boy tries to explain rap to Reggie. There’s also plenty of Verdi to offer a heavenly alternative to the gunfire and bloodied corpses that we have come to unquestioningly accept as de rigueur.