Jean (Maggie Smith) is the most recent aged diva to move into the stately Beecham House, a retirement home for opera stars, where the comic shenanigans are plentiful and everyone’s lives revolve around a yearly concert in honor of Giuseppe Verdi. This regal lady with the salty tongue has a history with many of the residents, notably fellow singer Reginald (Tom Courtenay), with whom she was once romantically involved. Their reintroduction is more than frosty, and Jean, lamenting that her glory days are behind her, would rather avoid human contact altogether. But maybe that annual recital—for which she is coerced into singing alongside Reginald, flighty Cissy (Pauline Collins) and skirt-chaser Wilf (Billy Connolly)—will help set things right.
Like many actors-turned-filmmakers, first-time director Dustin Hoffman (yes, that Dustin Hoffman) indulges his performers above all else: Collins and Connolly constantly tip over into low-comic caricature, while Smith is basically transposing her Downton Abbey bitch shtick to the present day, with run-of-the-mill results. Only Courtenay conveys any real sense of his character’s regret over love lost and a career in twilight. He also has a very funny scene in which he connects with a group of leery urban students by relating the glories of opera to hip-hop—one of the few times Ronald Harwood’s script (which he adapted from his own play) feels both witty and wise. Beyond that, the curtain can’t come down fast enough.
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