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.
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.