HOLLYWOOD star Dustin Hoffman is making his directoral debut with Quartet (Cert 12A) at the ripe old age of 75.
But then his four main stars are around the same age and he has found a subject that suits them all, a comedy set in a home for retired opera singers.
The film is clearly tapping into the lucrative grey pound market so successfully plundered by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last year.
But while that film had a certain, well, exotic appeal, Quartet, adapted by Ronald Harwood from his 1999 play, is rather stagey and in filmic terms has a very flimsy plot.
Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins) are among the residents of Beecham House preparing for the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday and are warned by director Cedric (Michael Gambon) that it is even more important this year for the home might have to close if they don’t raise enough money.
A new arrival at the home disrupts the equilibrium of the trio of old friends. The once celebrated Jean (Maggie Smith) belonged to an operatic quartet with the other three before going to a grander career and it raises the prospect of a famous reunion on Verdi’s Rigoletto.
The fact she was once married to Reggie creates tensions but more to the point she still acts like a diva and has no intention of demeaning herself by singing in the gala. The plot driver of whether the others will persuade Jean to do the right thing is hardly guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat and, in any case, the climactic final scene is oddly low-key.
Essentially Quartet relies on the charm of its illustrious cast. And while it’s good fun seeing Maggie Smith repeat her haughty harridan whose heart will surely melt and Billy Connolly as a twinkly old rake pretending to hit on long-suffering doctor Sheridan Smith, it’s not exactly a stretch for them.
Poor old Michael Gambon comes off worst of all as a preening old thesp in kaftan and tasseled fez.
Still as a celebration of the spirit of old age, it seems churlish to carp.