From writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, Song for Marion is the story of Arthur (Terence Stamp), a grumpy old man whose wife, Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), is dying of cancer, but still takes part in a choir for the elderly. When Marion dies Arthur eventually joins the choir, led by Gemma Arterton, and learns to find happiness through song. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been used by approximately every writer ever when they want to create an uplifting tale of redemption.
This would not be enough to condemn the film in and of itself, as sometimes a clichéd premise can be saved with good execution. Unfortunately, Song for Marion does the story badly. The whole film is essentially the first ten minutes of Up, but without any of the charm, fun or development of characters. The ending is made painfully obvious throughout, to the extent that I found myself wanting the main character to remain grumpy and alone, just to give us something even slightly resembling independent thought on the part of the writer.
Despite labelling itself as a “comedy drama” the only attempt at humour in the film comes from the old folks choir, and the fact that they sing modern songs about sex (oh the hilarity). Performance-wise, Vanessa Redgrave is good as the dying Marion, and Gemma Arterton seems to be trying her hardest, but unfortunately the whole thing is let down by Terence Stamp, whom I normally consider to be a fantastic actor. During a Q&A with the actor prior to the film’s screening at the Manchester Odeon, Terence Stamp commented on how he based his performance in the film on his own father, who had served in the navy during WWII, and had apparently been very distant as a parent. Stamp mentioned that he had been shipwrecked twice during the war, and that this probably contributed to his surly demeanour. He also stated how he was pleased to be doing a film like this, as it gave him a chance to play against type, going on to say, ‘I’m not interested in doing kids’ movies, I’m not interested in special effects movies’. Unfortunately, there’s a very good reason so many of Stamp’s most iconic roles have been bad guys, he’s very good at it. However, this does mean that when he tries to play ‘grumpy man with a heart of gold’, he comes across as a super villain, trying to take over the world one community centre choir at a time.
Not to lay all of the blame on him however, a lot of the problems lie with the script. Williams spends no time building up Arthur and Marion’s relationship, essentially just telling the audience, ‘they’re in love because I say they’re in love’ and leaving it there. I spent half the film wondering why Marion would ever have married this man whose emotional spectrum seems to range from grumpy, to slightly more grumpy, with an underlay of shouty.
To be fair, the film has some genuinely moving moments; it’s just that they all occur when the main character is off screen. If you’re one of those people who gets teary-eyed from films like Marley and Me, then this film will probably appeal to you. If you’re absolutely any other type of person, then watch Up. It’s so very much better.