2013 saw the release of two British comedies with the premise of ‘old people singing’ but where I felt Dustin Hoffman’s effort ‘Quartet’ was chock full of pretentious schmaltz, ‘Song for Marion’ seems completely genuine. It is a heartfelt love story directed by Paul Andrew Williams, looking at the relationship between grumpy old man Arthur, expertly played by Terence Stamp, and his dying wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), but also his strained relationship with his son (Christopher Eccleston). Set around an aging choir group, affectionately known as ‘The OAPZ’, led by charismatic music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), Marion enjoys the final chapter of life as Arthur struggles with the thought of carrying on alone.
As plots go, this doesn’t have an exciting narrative and won’t have you on the edge of your seat. It plods along nicely, but predictably, to the out of tune beats of dodgy cover versions. Where the film lacks in invention and creativity, it makes up for in warmth and the British familiarity is gently comforting. Mixed with the working class elderly backdrop, you can almost smell the mince and tatties and cigarette smoke through the screen. The supporting cast provide light relief from the heartbreak suffered by the central couple and whilst there is great sadness and loss, it gives the plot somewhere to go and prevents it from becoming depressing. The family dynamic is so believable and because of the tightly knit scenes in the family home, giving insight into Arthur and Marion’s everyday routines, an attachment is built with the couple, creating a closeness and a few incredibly touching scenes, but holding your hand along the way.
Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave are outstanding in this. The on screen connection is undeniable and the dialogue is so carefully handled. The intimate scenes that they share provide the highlights of the film, giving off the same impression of longevity in a marriage over an hour that an established soap opera pairing would after building a working relationship over years. By excelling in this manner across the first half of the film, it really assists and props up the second half, Terence Stamp playing Arthur beautifully alone, lost in his surroundings without his companion, so much so that he cannot sleep in their bed at night without her. After Marion’s inevitably sad passing at around the halfway point, it paves the way for excellent professional performances from both Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston, providing spark, each cast member holding their own and rising above the restrictively unimaginative script.
‘Song for Marion’ is a courageous piece of work, providing veteran actors an opportunity to show they’ve still got what it takes to tug on the heartstrings of an audience. They certainly achieve this, particularly Stamp, supplying a multi-layered character and a musical performance that I nearly got up out of my seat to cheer. For a film with the word ‘song’ in the title, there are too few strong musical segments but this somehow doesn’t seem to matter as the strength of the overall acting outweighs the flaws, leaving behind a tender, thoroughly enjoyable working class drama.