Quartet (1981 film)

This article is about the 1981 film. For the 1948 British anthology film, see Quartet (1948 film). For the 2012 film, see Quartet (2012 film).

Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (based on the novel by Jean Rhys)
Starring Dame Maggie Smith
Alan Bates
Isabelle Adjani
Anthony Higgins
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Pierre Lhomme
Edited by Humphrey Dixon
Distributed by New World Pictures (US)
Gaumont (France)
Release dates
May 1981 (at Cannes Film Festival)
25 October 1981 (US)
Running time
101 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English, French

Quartet is a 1981 Merchant Ivory Film, starring Maggie Smith, Isabelle Adjani, Anthony Higgins and Alan Bates, set in 1927 Paris. It premiered at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and was an entry for the Sélection Officielle (Official Selection). It was adapted from the novel by the same name by Jean Rhys.


The beautiful Marya "Mado" Zelli (Isabelle Adjani), is living with her husband Stephan (Anthony Higgins), a Polish art dealer, in 1927 Paris. When he is convicted of selling stolen artwork and imprisoned for one year, Marya is left penniless with no means to support herself. At Stephan's urging, she moves into the apartment of some acquaintances, H.J. Heidler (Alan Bates), a wealthy English art dealer, and his wife Lois (Dame Maggie Smith), a painter. H.J. has a history of inviting vulnerable young women to move into the "spare room" only to seduce them. Lois permits this arrangement because she wants to keep H.J. from leaving her.

Marya becomes involved in the decadent Parisien lifestyle of the Heidlers and their group of fellow expatriates. Although she initially resists H.J.'s advances, Mado eventually begins an affair with him. The strain of living with the Heidlers begins to manifest itself; Marya becomes desperate to leave and begs Lois to loan her money so she can get away. Lois, although extremely unhappy with the situation, is reluctant to interfere at the risk of alienating H.J. Her behavior towards Marya is increasingly passive aggressive and insulting. During a hunting excursion to the countryside, Marya angrily confronts the pair, causing Lois to break down in anguish.

After this H.J. arranges for Marya to live in a hotel, where he visits her less and less for sexual trysts. She grows lonely and depressed, contemplating suicide. During a tea party at the Heidlers', Lois casually reveals that H.J.'s previous mistress drowned herself in despair. When things are at their worst, Stephan is released from prison and must leave France immediately. Heidler threatens to break with her entirely if she returns to her husband, and although Marya has longed to be reunited with Stephan, she is unable to choose between the two. Stephan realizes the truth and the film ends with him abandoning Marya to an uncertain future.




  1. "Festival de Cannes: Quartet". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
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