Film review: SONG FOR MARION, from Built For Speed

Following Quartet and Performance, Song For Marion is the third recent film about older people finding solace, meaning and fulfilment through music.  Like those films, Song for Marion makes some sobering and touching observations about ageing and mortality although it’s often unsubtle in its emotional manipulation and veers awkwardly into the world of quirky comedy.

Terence stamp and Vanessa Redgrave play Arthur and Marion an older working class British couple trying to cope with Marion’s terminal cancer diagnosis. She seems to be handling it better than him as she maintains a positive demeanour and enthusiastically sings in senior citizens choir which performs pop songs rather than classical choral pieces. Arthur on the other hand is a miserable, hateful grump who wants to shut himself and Marion off from the world.  His social anxiety makes him resent the ebullient and extraverted choir singers. The group’s conductor Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), however, thinks that embracing the choir may be the best way for Arthur to honour Marion and emerge from his world of gloom.

A low-key, low-budget film like this succeeds or fails on the strength of its lead performances and fortunately Redgrave and Stamp are excellent.  Redgrave convincingly makes Marion a warm and compassionate person while Stamp makes the anti-social Arthur a genuinely tortured soul so that despite his anger and bitterness, he still elicits sympathy.  Their performances recall Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour although Song for Marion is nowhere near as stark and confronting a film as Amour.  After her turn in the appalling Hansel and Greek Witch Hunters, Gemma Arterton just about redeems herself here as perky, warm-hearted Elizabeth. Christopher Ecclestone also delivers a small but poignant performance as Arthur’s rejected son James.

While Arthur and Marion’s story is realistic and moving, the film diverges a little too often into odd, unconvincing and generally unfunny comic sequences which indulge “old person behaving badly” clichés. While it’s amusing to see the choir performing songs like Love Shack, Let’s talk about sex and bizarrely, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, the scenes of elderly gents in mullet wigs head banging is just demeaning.

Sometimes, though, the film finds great emotion in the musical numbers.  Few cinema-goers would have expected that they would ever see Vanessa Redgrave singing Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours or Terrence Stamp performing the Billy Joel ballad Lullably but Redgrave and Stamp’s renditions of these songs are extremely moving.

Song for Marion unfortunately contains some irritatingly loose plot threads and unanswered questions.  What, for instance is the reason for the antipathy between Arthur and son James? Why does Elizabeth confide in Arthur of all people when she has relationship problems?  These are minor issues but they are distracting and chip away at our enjoyment of the film.

This may be a flawed and fairly predictable film but its highlights are terrific and it’s a privilege to see two of Britain’s finest actors in Redgrave and Stamp together on screen.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Paul Andrew Williams

Release date: 25th April 2013

Running time: 93 mins.

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