Title: Song For Marion
Director: Paul Andrew Willliams
Major Players: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston
Out Of Five? 3.5
After years of films aimed at a younger market, it seems film makers have woken up at last to the power of the grey pound (or dollar). And it’s about time, with around a quarter of the UK film audience aged 50 and above, according to figures from the Film Distributors Association. The past year has seen a clutch of films aimed at older people – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, Amour and the forthcoming Robot And Frank – and, in Song For Marion, we have another. Don’t we?
Up to a point. But given that, according to director Paul Andrew Williams, it’s taken six years to get the film made, it’s probably more of a trend setter than a follower. Plus, I’d prefer to say it’s about older people rather than aimed at them: it has a much wider appeal and just about anybody seeing it will identify with elements of the story somewhere along the line.
Arthur (Terence Stamp) and Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) are the personification of opposites attracting, yet they’re soulmates. He’s bad tempered, with a negative viewpoint on life and struggles with emotional expression. She’s energetic, loves life and, having discovered that her illness is terminal, embraces her last few months, mainly through her membership of a community choir. He, naturally, hates the idea but the choir’s instructor (Gemma Arterton) realises that there’s more to him than just a grumpy old man.
Based on some of Williams’ own real life experiences, Song For Marion marks a radical departure in tone and subject matter since his first major hit, the gritty London To Brighton (2006). This is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, sometimes even waving it in your face, as the director wrings the last drop of emotion out of every scene. Miraculously, it never descends into mawkishness, although it comes perilously close, especially in its choice of music. It teeters on the brink – and then you’re brought back with a jolt. Sometimes it’s the savvy granddaughter, sometimes a member of the choir joining in too enthusiastically and being carted off in an ambulance, but very often it’s grumpy Arthur himself who bring us back down to earth.
What distinguishes Song For Marion from the majority of other films about older people is its sheer ordinariness. There’s nothing glamorous about these older people – unlike the five star retirement home in Quartet, for instance, or the beautifully turned out residents of the Exotic Marigold. Arthur and Marion live in a suburban bungalow that needs a lick of paint, has tatty armchairs and a pokey kitchen. They don’t dress particularly fashionably or expensively. When Marion’s in hospital, she doesn’t have a private room, just a cubicle like anybody else. The community centre where the choir rehearses is on a nearby estate, with all the charm you expect of 1970s functional architecture.
And that sense of being grounded in reality is reflected in the choir as well. They’re good – but not so good as to be unbelievable: both Redgrave and Stamp sing solos at different stages of the film and, again, they’re competent singers (Redgrave, of course, has been in a number of musicals), but not brilliant ones. And that’s how it should be.
So it’s a real shame that director Williams falls prey to some bear traps along the way. You know exactly where the film is going because the signposts are all there. And there are some clunking moments: as the streetlight outside the house splutters and goes out, so does a life inside. And the setback faced by the choir as the film reaches its climax is just too contrived to be believable. Against the general backdrop of the film, it’s glaringly out of place.
Terence Stamp leads the quality cast with an excellent turn as Arthur. Playing against type, he’s dressed in what look like charity shop clothes and sports a couple of days’ stubble. Yet there are moments when his gloomy face cracks and a child-like smile lights up his face. It’s a far cry from the slick suits and menacing stares of some of his more recent roles. He and Vanessa Redgrave make a convincingly devoted couple and the ‘family’ is completed by Christopher Eccleston as the son whose relationship with his father has always been strained. Nonetheless, it becomes apparent that he is very much his father’s son.
Although it’ll doubtlessly be labelled as an older person’s movie, Song For Marion is more in tune with the likes of The Full Monty and Brassed Off, although it’s probably not as big a film. However, with its release later instead of earlier in the month, it will have a wider distribution and, hopefully, an audience to match – of all ages.
Song For Marion is on nationwide release from Friday, 22 February.
This review can now be downloaded as a podcast: http://www.cyberears.com/index.php/Browse/playaudio/18062