Movie review – Song for Marion: Notes on living in full song

2013-06-30 14:00

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Song for Marion teaches us that it is never too late to find harmony in life, writes Gayle Edmunds

This type of film is in short supply – it’s in the same tradition as Brassed Off, The Englishman who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, and Billy Elliot.

It is such a treat to once again see that trademark English film that takes a seemingly insignificant event in the greater scheme of life and make it the focal point of a moving human story.

This is a very personal story for writer and director Paul Andrew Williams, based on his observations of his grandparents’ marriage and how his grandfather, who was emotionally remote by nature, dealt with his wife’s death.

Here Williams asks the question as to what would make a taciturn man come out of his shell.

The answer is an unconventional choir of pensioners who meet in a run-down community hall to harmonise pop songs as unlikely as Let’s Talk About Sex.

Apart from the personal aspect of this film, Williams is also adamant that in our youth-obsessed culture, it shows another side of old age.

“Some people have this idea that old people just sit at home, dribbling. They actually do have fun, they do get together and they do talk about sex. I wanted to make sure that people see that, actually, old people do have a good laugh,” he says.

The real coup for Williams, though, is his cast, with the great Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp starring. It takes great courage for these actors to face their mortality as they are forced to in this film – and they do it with emotional grit.

Redgrave is Marion, and Stamp is her husband Arthur. Every week, Arthur drops Marion off at the community hall to sing while he skulks around outside, smoking.

When Marion discovers that her cancer is back and that it is time to, as the doctor puts it, go home and “eat chips and ice cream” she faces her imminent death with great fortitude – and a song.

The choir, who are preparing to audition for a competition, ask Marion to sing the solo she won’t be around to sing for the competition. When she dies, Arthur has to make some crucial decisions about his own life, including his rocky relationship with his son and how to honour his wife’s love of song.

The younger generation in this film is represented by two relatively well-known faces: Gemma Arterton, a former Bond girl (Quantum of Solace), who plays Elizabeth, a school music teacher who spends her spare time conducting pensioners and so has no friends her own age; and Christopher Eccleston, who plays James, Marion and Arthur’s son.

Despite the parallel stories in the script, Song for Marion is very much Arthur’s story and Stamp admits to having felt “trepidation” at taking it on. “It wasn’t that I didn’t feel I could do it,” he says.

“It just felt like a big reach. Arthur is not really older than me, but I visualise him as older. I’m not like Arthur, I’m very active and fit, so on a vanity level, it was a kind of unnerving commitment.”

Song for Marion was made on a shoestring budget, the cast had little rehearsal time and it is unlike anything the director has made before.

But you’d never know any of this from watching it. It is Arterton’s best performance, Redgrave is her usual flawless self and Stamp’s curmudgeon Arthur is a far cry from his days as a flamboyant drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

This is a deeply touching film about love, forgiveness and honouring those we love in ways that make us squirm.

I had a thoroughly good cry from beginning to end. Take a whole bunch of tissues with you when you go.

Film: Song for Marion (UIP)

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Featuring: Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston

Rating: 7/10

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