Published: Tuesday, 18 December 2012 00:51
98 minutes, Not Rated
Review by Jana Hardy
Beecham House, a retirement residence for musicians and opera singers has a lovely and tranquil balance and flow, with magnificent grounds and well-appointed interiors. That is, until the arrival of Jean Horton. Horton, married five or more times, is the British version of Maria Callas, a true Diva, with a reputation and snarl to match. Waiting for her to arrive are one former husband, some colleagues and more than a few foes. Shall she upset the delicate balance as the residents prepare for the Oct. 10 recital in honor of Verdi's birth? You can count on it.
The juicy role of Horton is superbly played by Dame Maggie Smith. Born in 1934, she has transformed herself yet again with an award winning performance. She is sublimely perfect. She and the supporting cast do credit to their director, Dustin Hoffmanin what's billed as his first time directing. However, in 1978, he directed Straight Time, without uncredit. At 75 (born in 1937) many of the cast members were older than Hoffman.
The supporting cast includes Tom Courtenay (The Dresser, born in 1937) as Reginald "Reggie" Paget, Billy Connolly (Brown and born in 1942) as Wilfred "Wilf" Bond and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine, born in 1940) as Cecily "Cissy" Robason. We also have Michael Gambon (Dumbledore from Harry Potter, born in 1940) as Cedric Livingston.
There is also a very long list of actual singers and musicians that were affiliated with the BBC Symphony and British Opera companies as early as the 1940s populating the extras and background players. Watch through the credits to see current and earlier photographs of these very talented people.
This very charming and relevant film was beautifully shot on the grounds of Hedsor House and Park, Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England (shades of Downton Abbey). John DeBorman was the Director of Photography. He previously worked on An Education, Shall We Dance and The Full Monty. The interiors were lush and the grounds are sweeping. The music supported and didn't intrude on Verdi and the other masters. Dario Marianelli (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karinina) composed the soundtrack.
I prepared for a saccharine sweet movie, dreading a formula ending. I left pleasantly surprised. The cast and director transformed what could have been a crashing bore or snoozer into a delightfully layered and delicately presented must-see movie for not only opera or music officianados but anyone that can truly appreciate great acting, a great script and well-crafted direction.
It opens in late December 2012 in NYC and LA to quality for the Oscars and in January 2013 in other markets.
Out of 5, it rates a 5. It will be in my top movies of the year.