Song for Marion: Toronto Review

Song for Marion Toronto Film Still - H 2012
Story of a widower's final tribute to his wife is less sappy than it might've been

Terence Stamp sings in writer-director Paul Andrew William' bittersweet, British comedy, which also stars Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton.

TORONTO — Less sentimental than it sounds but not by much, Paul Andrew Williams's Song for Marion presents Terence Stamp as a senior citizen convinced to sing with a choir in tribute to his dearly-departed wife. Some very fine actors manage to keep their dignity here, in a film whose conceit and execution will appeal to a large percentage of the older moviegoing public.

Stamp's Arthur is a husband whose gruffness, though a challenge for others, has never kept wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) from understanding his love for her. If he grumbles about her participation in a choir for the elderly it's largely because it taxes her stamina, and only secondarily because having retirees sing harmony on Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" or do ersatz rap on "Let's Talk About Sex" seems to invite public mockery.

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But the group, led by volunteer conductor Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), is clearly a source of camaraderie and joy for Marion, and when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he grudgingly helps her spend her final months helping the choir qualify for the finals of a nearby competition. He also attempts to make peace with his son (Christopher Eccleston, eloquently showing the emotional toll lifelong paternal disdain has taken), though this is a more complicated job than simply taking Marion to rehearsals and apologizing when he snaps at her friends.

Redgrave and Stamp have a touching, mismatched chemistry, and in their hands the marriage described in Williams's script feels lived-in and real. When she dies, Arthur's impulse to become a recluse is overcome by the idea of finishing what she started: Opening up emotionally to the choral cheerleader he's been so skeptical of, he agrees to sing a solo at Elizabeth's group's competition.

The musical repertoire seems chosen solely so trailers can offer a quirky Full Monty-style gimmick, as opposed to being something this group of English oldsters might actually choose. (Why aren't they singing one of the soulful '60s tunes on the film's soundtrack, which might actually mean something to them?) But Song for Marion doesn't abuse these characters too much: Sure, one octogenarian winds up in an ambulance after trying to dance The Robot, but all of them are in on the joke, and some viewers will find it absolutely hilarious to see them in heavy-metal mode for "Ace of Spades."

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Williams's only grievous misstep is in the film's climax, where he introduces an unforgivably contrived obstacle to the choir's final concert. Stamp saves the day to an extent, but what might have been a truly moving performance is thoroughly contaminated by a script that doesn't trust its lead character to bring us to tears on his own.

Production Company: Steel Mill Pictures

Cast: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston

Director-Screenwriter: Paul Andrew Williams

Producers: Ken Marshall, Philip Moross

Executive producers: Christian Angermayer, Tara Moross, Achim Pfeffer, Alistair Ross, Ricky Sans

Director of photography: Carlos Catalán

Production designer: Sophie Becher

Music: Laura Rossi

Costume designer: Jo Thompson

Editor: Daniel Farrell

No rating, 93 minutes