Friday, 19 October 2012

About filming Song for Marion.

Song for Marion: Christopher Eccleston is James


This is a scene from the then nine-year-old Orla Hill's first day's filming on Song for Marion, or any other movie. Previous professional experience: one voiceover for a pre-school children's TV show; one TV commercial for Argos. Orla is the little blonde thing, squinting in the sunlight. The other children and the grown-ups whose faces you can't see are people from the neighbourhood on the edge of Newcastle where the filming was taking place. The grown-up whose face you can see is, of course, Christopher Eccleston.

Partly, Christopher was doing what actors on film sets have to do quite a lot of - waiting for the director to be ready to ask him to act. But mostly he was doing something else he seems to do very well - being good to people.

In Song for Marion he plays James, the son of Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) and Arthur (Terence Stamp), and the father of Jennifer, played by Orla. When we rolled up - Mummy, Daddy and the small debutante in pink leggings - he wasted no time demonstrating that he is as generous and thoughtful as you somehow expect him to be.

The dark blanket you can just about see wrapped around Orla was his idea, to prevent her getting cold on what was a blowy day, despite the sun. His hands placed lightly on her shoulders as he talked to the other kids - about Doctor Who, mostly - demonstrated just the right, low key protectiveness towards the child with whom he would shortly walk towards a camera.

If Orla, though far less nervous than her parents, had needed a little no-fuss reassurance as she too awaited the director's call, Christopher was providing it. And when that call eventually came - it was a complicated shoot that day, not helped by the erratic weather - he told the other kids and their mums and dads not to go away, he'd be back in a few minutes to answer all their remaining questions and sign all the autographs they wanted. And he was, of course, as good as his word. Top man.

He and Orla got on very well throughout the making of the film, which included his teaching her how to play table tennis - speaking of which, this blog hopes in the future to provide exclusive video footage of a titanic, sci-fi ping-pong encounter between the heroic erstwhile Doctor and dastardly former General Zod. Bet you can't guess who wins.

This article was written in close, late night collaboration by the authors and publishers of this blog, Orla's parents Sheila and Dave. Coming soon: meeting Vanessa.

London Film Festival 2012: Song for Marion, review. Spoilers!

At the heart of Paul Andrew Williams's film, Song for Marion, there are three performances precisely calibrated to get the tears flowing, writes Robbie Collin.

3 3 out of 5 stars

Dir: Paul Andrew Williams; Starring: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton. PG cert, 93 min.

Nothing raises the stakes in a British film like the prospect of public embarrassment. From The Full Monty to Billy Elliot and Calendar Girls, comic dramas about everyday people risking humiliation for a good cause seem to strike a chord with cinema goers, both here and abroad, and Song for Marion is the latest film to pop up in the sub-genre.

Paul Andrew Williams’s picture is a softer, slighter work than those mega-hits above, but at its heart there are three performances so precisely, even mercilessly calibrated to get the tears flowing that the narrative fumbles soon vanish behind a gauze of sobs.

Terence Stamp is Arthur, a prickly congenital grump whose beloved wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) sings in an amateurish community chorus who are preparing for a choir of the year competition. Marion has cancer, and singing brings her a great deal of enjoyment in what both she and her husband tacitly acknowledge are her last days. Arthur, however, can’t bring himself to join in. “You know how I feel about enjoying myself,” he snaps at their semi-estranged adult son James (Christopher Eccleston), only half-joking.

Marion’s choir are called The OAPZ, “with a Z at the end to make it street,” as their ever-chirpy conductor Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) explains. Much like their name, The OAPZ’s repertoire is laboriously offbeat, and hearing a band of pensioners crooning Ace of Spades by Motörhead and Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt-n-Pepa is funny precisely once per song.

By now the direction in which Song for Marion is headed should be clear, although if you are yet to connect the dots, it takes in heartbreak, redemption and reconciliation via a touching on-stage solo from Stamp.

Williams, whose past films include the crime thriller London to Brighton, a couple of grungy horrors and nothing even slightly like Song for Marion, sometimes plays it too broad for his own good. Few emotional moments are allowed to pass without a prod in the ribs from a tinkling piano, a trick that begins to grate as much as Marion’s cartoonish fellow singers; and the grand finale is marred by a last-minute setback too engineered even for The X Factor. But the emotional bonds between the three leads are so plausibly knotted (Eccleston, in particular, is unquestionably his screen father’s son) that it’s tempting to forgive the film the occasional off-key honk.

Thursday, 11 October 2012