Welcome to Beechum House, an English countryside estate where the world’s most talented musicians and singers come to live out their final days. The film opens several months before Beechum House’s annual fundraising gala, which occurs on Verdi’s birthday. Every resident must perform, and unless the gala attracts wealthy donors this year, Beechum House will close.
Dr. Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith) supervises such colorful retirees as Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon), who orchestrates the gala with tyrannical precision, and Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), a former opera singer whose stroke allegedly destroyed his ability to censor his more lusty thoughts. Wilf spends most of his time with other retired opera performers, namely Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins).
When Wilf, Reg, Cissy, and the house’s other residents notice a Beechum House van pulling out of the driveway, they realize two things: someone new will soon arrive at Beechum House, and that person will have been a great star. Dr. Cogan refuses to divulge the new resident’s identity, so Reg plans for a student lecture he will teach the next day and Wilf ambles about the estate, flirting with every woman he encounters. Cissy, whose short-term memory worsens every day, does her best to help Cedric and some other residents plan Verdi’s birthday gala.
In London, the renowned opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), dreads her move to Beechum House. She did not enter the assisted living facility willingly, and it’s obvious from her nervous habit of practicing an apology under her breath that she’s dreading whom she might encounter there. Jean almost demands that the van driver turn around and take her back to her home, but with her bad hip, she can no longer live alone.
Dr. Cogan greets Jean warmly, and Cissy also witnesses her arrival. Jean barely notices the fresh flowers or her new room’s size and opulence. As soon as Dr. Cogan leaves her, she sinks into a chair and stares into space. Meanwhile, Cissy runs into Reg and Wilf. It takes her a few moments to remember the identity of Beechum House’s newest resident, but when she recalls one of Jean’s stunning performances, Reg recoils in horror. He storms off to find Dr. Cogan. Wilf reminds Cissy that, years ago, Reg and Jean were married; their marriage ended very badly.
When Reg finds Dr. Cogan, he gets as angry as his reserved nature will allow. He now knows she kept Jean’s identity a secret so he would not leave Beechum House. Dr. Cogan wanted Jean’s star power to attract big donors to the gala, but Reg claims Jean’s arrival will ruin his old age. He claims he will leave Beechum House as soon as he can. That night, as a violinist practices for the gala, Reg stands on his balcony and stares at Jean’s window.
The next morning, Jean awakens in her chair and ventures out into the house. She seems anxious to find Reg, but before she can locate him, Cissy pops out to say hello. Jean and Cissy performed together in the past - in fact, along with Wilf and Reg, the four of them sang a stunning rendition of Verdi’s Rigoletto. Cissy often listens to a recording of the performance on her Discman. Cissy leads Jean to the music room where Reg teaches a group of London teenagers about opera. Reg bonds with a few students in particular when they discover the commonalities between rap and opera.
Later, Wilf and Reg discuss the latter’s failed marriage to Jean. Reg doesn’t want to listen to Wilf’s relationship advice, mostly because Wilf cheated on his wife throughout their thirty-five year marriage. Cissy and Jean find the pair, and Jean tries to apologize to Reg. He wants nothing to do with her, though - they haven’t seen one another in decades - and he storms off for the second time in as many days. Jean follows him to the small chapel where he has sought solace. Despite Reg’s hostility towards her, Jean coaxes him into conversation. By apologizing again, she earns a tentative truce between them. They begin discussing their lives since their divorce - Jean married two more times, never had children, and stopped performing when the pressures of fame became too heavy for her. Reg never wanted to marry again and moved to Beechum House after visiting Wilf there several falls ago. Wilf suffered a stroke, which is apparently why he flirts so voraciously will all the women he meets, and when he visited, Reg fell in love with the place.
Meanwhile, Cedric realizes the drawing power of having Wilf, Reg, Cissy, and Jean - the four greatest performers in British operatic history - performing together at the gala. He enlists Cissy to help him convince the other three that they should reprise their roles in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Wilf and Reg take to the idea more easily than anticipated, but everyone realizes how difficult it will be to get Jean onboard. The trio decides to invite her to a fancy dinner, get her drunk, and spring the idea on her.
Jean arrives at the dinner believing they genuinely want to spend time with her. Cissy’s memory problems become more apparent to Jean as she, Wilf, and Reg have to remind her several times what’s happened over the past few days. Everyone becomes drunker as the evening progresses, and in a moment of flightiness, Cissy spills the beans about Cedric’s Rigoletto master plan. Jean, who hasn’t performed in years, panics. She feels hurt that the others invited her out to dinner under false pretenses; she yells at them before running out of the dining room. The next morning she finds the trio at breakfast and curses at them for not realizing that, at her age, she could never perform Rigoletto to her former standards.
That afternoon, Cissy tries to apologize to Jean. She finds the latter in her room and ignores Jean’s demands to be left alone. When Cissy tries to take a bouquet of flowers from Jean’s hands, Jean explodes at her and hits her over the head with the bouquet. Cissy begins crying, runs into the hallway, and in her agitated state she crashes into a cleaning cart in the hallway. Cissy crumples to the ground and must be rushed to Beechum House’s medical ward.
Thankfully, Cissy awakens that evening, but it takes her several moments (and much coaxing from Wilf and Reg) to regain her memory. Jean, deeply ashamed of her attack upon Cissy, visits her in the medical ward. She apologizes for hurting Cissy, and Cissy forgives her. Later, Jean invites Cissy, Wilf, and Reg to her room, where she apologizes to all of them. She still harbors doubts about performing Rigoletto, because she knows everyone will compare her (and them) to their brilliant original performance. Reg tells her not to worry about living up to how good she used to be; he encourages her to let go of her fear of bad reviews and to live instead. Eventually, reluctantly, Jean agrees to perform in the quartet.
The weeks fly by as everyone in Beechum House prepares for the gala. Jean initially stumbles through her performance of Rigoletto, but with a lot of practice and encouragement from Reg, she steadily improves. When the night of the gala arrives, Cedric and Dr. Cogan are thrilled at the turn out. Dr. Cogan announces Beechum House has raised enough money to remain open, and she thanks the residents for inspiring her with their love of art.
Cissy and Jean prepare backstage. Theirs will be the grand finale. Cissy asks why Jean and Reg divorced, since they now seem to get along so well. Jean confesses that, shortly after she married Reg, she got drunk and cheated on him with a costar. She told Reg about her affair because she didn’t want to lie to him, and he was so angry that he left her. Reg overhears her confession to Cissy, and he seems moved when Jean admits that cheating on him was “the biggest mistake of her life.”
Shortly before the quartet are supposed to perform, Cissy breaks with reality and suddenly believes she’s a young woman. She believes she has a train to catch, to go to another performance. She starts to wander towards the stage, where a group of residents are performing. Jean tenderly goes after Cissy and draws her back to reality by explaining she doesn’t need to catch the train until next week. Reg witnesses this act, too. He is obviously taken with Jean’s softer side.
Right before the quartet go onstage, Wilf whispers to Jean that they should both ditch their canes. Jean doesn’t think she can stand through the whole performance, and Wilf tells her to lean on Reg - he’ll love that, since he never stopped loving her. The quartet emerge onto the stage, and the audience leaps to their feet and applauds them. Reg’s hand brushes Jean, then he takes her hand in his.
“Let’s get married,” he whispers.
Jean is shocked but ecstatic. “Do you mean it?” she whispers back.
“Yes,” he tells her. Jean accepts his proposal. The films ends with a shot of Beechum House just as the quartet begins to perform Verdi’s Rigoletto.
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