The plot takes place in Beecham House, a retirement home for former professional musicians, patterned after the real-life Casa di Riposo per Musicisti founded by Giuseppe Verdi.
Reg, Wilf and Cissy are retired opera singers who often worked together in the past; among other residents are Cedric Livingstone, a former director, and diva Anne Langley. All the guests in the retirement home continue to be engaged in their former professions in one way or the other, including lecturing and initiating young people to music.
Finances threaten closure of the home but proceeds from a yearly gala concert on Verdi's birthday hold hope for a continuation of the place. However, Cedric has become rather desperate because some of the most prominent singers have either died or decided not to participate at all. Reg, Wilf and Cissy were in the cast of a very highly rated recording of the opera Rigoletto, which includes a famous quartet for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone ("Bella figlia dell'amore"). This version is very prominent among opera buffs as THE Rigoletto of the post-war era.
One day, Reg is shocked to find his former wife Jean Horton, the missing soprano of the Rigoletto recording, turning up to live at Beecham House. Reg is angry not to have been warned as their parting was on very sour terms.
At first Jean tries unsuccessfully to mend things with Reg. In the ensuing conversations her infidelity arises, as well as her past marriages, but Reg comes to understand that all that is past. In the meantime, Wilf and Cissy convince Cedric that bringing together those who sang the quartet on the famous recording to sing it again for the Verdi Gala concert will sell enough tickets to save the home. Enchanted with the idea, they persuade Reg to overcome his objections to performing with Jean again. However, she is harder to persuade as she vowed never to sing again after retiring.
Cissy takes Jean flowers from the garden to cheer her up and asks if she wishes to discuss the quartet, but Jean becomes violent and attacks Cissy, which only aggravates Cissy's already delicate senile condition. Jean apologises and is finally persuaded to sing in the quartet from Rigoletto, after learning that Anne Langley will be singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca. The group prepares for their performance and, moments before their curtain call, Cissy gets very confused and attempts to walk out the door, saying that she has to go back to her family, but Jean manages to salvage the situation. During her conversation with Cissy, Jean expresses regret for all her past bad behaviour towards Reg and admits that she is still in love with him. Reg overhears this.
Just as the recital is about to start, the director of the home is amazed at the energy displayed by the guests of the home. The idea of rehearsing and playing before an audience brings life back to them, leading her to the conclusion that old age and art go together. As they are about to enter the stage, Reg asks Jean to marry him again, and once on stage she whispers her acceptance.Maggie Smith as Jean Horton
Tom Courtenay as Reginald "Reg" Paget
Gwyneth Jones as Anne Langley
Michael Gambon as Cedric Livingstone
Billy Connolly as Wilfred "Wilf" Bond
Pauline Collins as Cecily "Cissy" Robson
Sheridan Smith as Dr Lucy Cogan
Andrew Sachs as Bobby Swanson
Trevor Peacock as George
David Ryall as Harry
Luke Newberry as Simon
Michael Byrne as Frank White
Headline Pictures' Mark Shivas and Stewart Mackinnon acquired the film rights to the play from Ronald Harwood and, with funding from BBC Films, commissioned him to write the screenplay. Mackinnon then approached a number of co-producers and directors, and eventually contracted the producer Finola Dwyer and director Dustin Hoffman. Sadly, Mark Shivas died four years before the film was completed.
The story of Quartet is based at Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. Hedsor House in Buckinghamshire was used as the location of Beecham House. Several scenes were filmed at St Nicholas' Church, Hedsor. Much of the supporting cast is made up of actual musical stars of the past, as illustrated by then-and-now photos during the closing credits.
Dustin Hoffman said Harwood was inspired by the 1984 documentary Tosca's Kiss to write the original play on which the film is based.
Quartet premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on 9 September 2012, followed by screenings at another dozen film festivals during the autumn of 2012. The film had its first general release in Australia and New Zealand on 26 December 2012, before being released in the United Kingdom on 1 January 2013 and in Ireland three days later. It saw a limited release in the United States on 11 January 2013.
Quartet was also screened at Cardiff's Cineworld complex on Thursday 6 December 2012, in a charity event arranged by the Rotary Club of Blackwood, with proceeds donated to charities. The premiere was attended by the film's producer Finola Dwyer, who gave an interview on the making of the film.
Quartet was released on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD/digital on 6 May 2013 in the UK and on 18 June 2013 in the United States.
Quartet received generally positive reviews from professional film critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an 79% approval rating with an average rating of 6.5/10 based on 135 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "It's sweet, gentle, and predictable to a fault, but Dustin Hoffman's affectionate direction and the talented cast's amiable charm make Quartet too difficult to resist." Metacritic gave a score of 64 out of 100 based on 36 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a B, writing,
This lulling inspirational fantasy/comedy in the key of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel offers aging, cultured Englishfolk (and one randy Scot, played by Billy Connolly) living out their golden years in a beautifully maintained residence for retired musicians. Every vista suggests that this gracious oldies' home is situated down the road from Downton Abbey, and every scene insists that real physical or mental infirmity belongs in some other picture.