Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is terminally ill, but insists that she still be a part of her local choir, much to the annoyance of her husband Arthur (Terence Stamp).
In the recent swathe of films to focus on the struggles of older people as their health deteriorates and their lives change, there has been a distinct lack of heart, but Song for Marion is a surprisingly warm and touching film, written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams.
We all know that Vanessa Redgrave is a firecracker, and she channels all of this energy into her character. Refusing to give up, Marion is the kind of person that inspires others, simply through her tenacity. Terence Stamp is a surprise casting choice, but a welcome one. As Arthur, he is the perfect foil to his joyful wife, and seems permanently displeased by what is going on around him. However, there is warmth to this character, which is slowly revealed.
One of the many things that Arthur must face is his relationship with his son James. Christopher Eccleston is surprisingly understated in the role of James and mirrors back the resentment he believes is coming back from his father. Eccleston is warm and gentle with his mum and daughter, but brittle and frosty with his father. It is a combination that works incredibly well, and allows Stamp to play with the scenes. Gemma Arterton plays choir mistress Elizabeth and, like the rest of the cast, is warm and subtle in the role. A couple of her scenes are cringe-worthy, but for once this is not the fault of the actress; she is engaging and rather sweet.
These four are backed up by a surprisingly funny but overused choir whose antics soon get old. As well as this, the song choices are obviously supposed to underline the fact that this film has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with celebrating life, but when a group of octogenarians is singing Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt n’ Pepa, the result is less progressive and more embarrassing. Stamp and Redgrave’s solos, however, hit the perfect notes and, while they may not be opera singers in disguise, these scenes are engaging without being overly sentimental.
Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams has managed to take the best attributes of mumblecore and apply them to the film. The story is utterly predictable, but the warmth and strength from the actors on screen are what makes the film work. The dialogue is strong, for the most part, but its often what is unsaid that conveys a scene more than oceans of dialogue. The journey that the characters go on is a gratifying one and, even though the story arc is small, it is relatable as Arthur tries to change the habit of a lifetime and open up to the people around him. Williams sometimes stumbles as a director; there are a few scenes that feel forced and shoehorned into the film, but for the most part Song for Marion is simple but well executed.
Song for Marion is a story that we have probably seen before but the performances are strong, Stamp is engaging and relatable, and this is a film with a big and warm heart.