In an opulent stately home for retired musicians, Dustin Hoffman assembles a top notch cast of British veterans for his directorial début, a rose-tinted tale of regrets of former opera stars in their declining years.
This collection of Oscar-worthies includes Tom Courtenay (Dr. Zhivago, The Dresser) Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine), Dame Maggie Smith (Miss Jean Brodie, Downton Abbey), plus Billy Connelly (Mrs Brown), come together as former singing partners to save Beecham House from closure.
Ignore the surface riffing on the indignities of old age, it’s High School Musical for the septuagenarians…
Touching as it is, this year’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has to go some to keep up, even after importing La Smith as the haughty grand opera dame.
The theatricality of Ronald Harwood’s own stage adaptation is not helped by the grand setting in which the supposed pauper pensioners live; Downton itself is put to shame with the luxury of the interiors and grounds.
As for the plot, it recycles every ‘let’s do the show right here’ musical from Garland and Rooney to Fame and The Muppets. After a bit of jostling, a few set-backs, a will-they, won’t they, a reversal and recovery, and the obligatory rehearsal montage, we arrive at the Gala performance. And what a performance it will have to be if the miniscule audience is to stump up the cash to save the multi-million budget manor.
Can the four thesps pull off the opera? Will Hoffman cop out and lip-synch their legendary Rigoletto quartet?
The four leads do an outstanding job, from Collins’ energetic early dementia, Smith’s high-strung recluse, to Connelly’s old rogue growing old disgracefully. But it is Courtenay’s quiet, heart-broken Reggie who steals every scene.
Ably supported by a campy Michael Gambon, an underused Sheridan Smith, Trevor Peacock as a variety-show muddler, also prepare to be amazed by the genuine retired players in the background cast, showing they’ve still got it after all these years.
Hoffman’s directing is assured and as a genre movie, holds together in time-honoured, predictable fashion. There are some fine scenes – Reggie contrasting opera and hip-hop with some street-wise school-kids just might get you to look at opera in a new way.
No car crashes, no shoot-outs, no blue-skinned lemur-people, just ignore the clichés, sit back and admire the performances. RC
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Writer: Ronald Harwood
Certicate (UK): 12A
Runtime: 90 mins
Cast: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins Billy Connolly, Andrew Sachs, Sheridan Smith