Maggie Smith, our favorite dowager countess on PBS’ Downton Abbey, is on the big screen this month in Quartet, a film set in a home for retired performers, musicians, and especially opera singers.
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is the movie version of a British play of the same name that follows the residents of Beecham House as they prepare for their annual gala concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Ms. Smith plays a diva (what else?) with a caustic tongue and oversized ego, whose arrival at the home reunites her with her former colleagues.
Retirement home movies, if not trending, are proving to be very fashionable at present. Quartet comes on the heels of the wildly popular The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, an ensemble piece starring the aforementioned Dame Maggie Smith, along with Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. That movie took place in an Indian retirement home and followed its residents and their (misguided) hopes and visions of an exciting and luxurious future. And while not finding quite what they expected, they find joy with each other in their less-than five-star accommodations.
Elderly actors in film are nothing new. Christopher Plummer is the oldest Academy Award recipient who, at 82, won a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in the 2010 film Beginners. What is a relatively new phenomenon is the advent of the elderly ensemble cast, where most, if not all, major characters are seniors — seniors who lead a rich and valuable lives. These ensemble pieces are very attractive to a movie-going population who is getting older as well. The movement is being called the “greying of the silver screen” and turn Hollywood’s obsession with youth on its head.
According to Nielsen’s National Research Group, the proportion of oldest moviegoers (65-74) has been steadily growing over the last few years. Great actors are no longer fading into retirement and are bringing their audience into the theaters with them.
Dustin Hoffman, himself now 75, discussed choosing the material, exploring aging and life’s “third act” in the February/March Issue of AARP The Magazine.
“During filming I was saying to everybody in the cast, ‘We’re all in the same act together.’ I always think it’s a three-act play and we’re in the second act—the third act being something that alters you, some infirmity or whatever. And somebody responded, ‘Maybe it’s a Shakespearean play with five acts.’ I liked that. Maybe I’ve got three more acts.”