Film review: Song for MarionBy Kim Francis
February 20, 2013
The latest in a line of films about the older generation, like precursors The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet, Song For Marion broaches the subject of twilight years.
But unlike the others, it’s far more heart-warming and uplifting – and a touch less patronising too.
Director Paul Andrew Williams’s treatment of the film’s peripheral elderly characters is certainly debatable, but the central characters are wonderfully rounded human beings – they’re a couple who are forced to confront mortality but are never consumed by it.
Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is terminally ill. But though she knows she is fading fast, she musters all her strength and enthusiasm to perform with a singing group coached by school teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).
Marion’s cranky husband Arthur (Terence Stamp) disapproves of her antics and resists her attempts to encourage him to embrace, or even accept, her involvement. Until, that is, he begins to find solace in the group.
When a breakthrough is finally made, he finds himself able to repair his damaged relationship with his son James (Christopher Ecclestone) and feel joy once again.
Still handsome and in possession of the charisma that made him a sex symbol in his early career, Stamp is cast against type as a grumpy old man, angry at the world and weary of life. But those famous sparkly blue eyes work in his favour to bring a charm to the character that adds heart and credence to this touching story.
Redgrave’s exceptional performance as the dying Marion is wonderfully underplayed, and, together with Stamp, she’s pivotal to the film’s success. Redgrave refuses to rely on stereotypes or attempts to cultivate sympathy as a lesser actor might, and instead she brings a vitality and love of life to the role, meaning it’s never maudlin.
The problem with the film is in its underwritten supporting characters. Gemma Arterton’s Elizabeth is sickly sweet, giving up her free time and sacrificing the chance for love to run the group, while Ecclestone is largely left out when it comes to character development – a shame because he’s potentially very interesting.
Although it’s not just characters that suffer from being underwritten. Portions of dialogue and plot elements also fall victim, which impacts on the film’s overall quality. Much of it feels heartrendingly real but the mood breaks at the emergence of one of these underdeveloped interludes.
With a Hollywood-style ending that comes across like a geriatric School of Rock, Song For Marion finishes with a less heavyweight tone than it threatens from the outset and becomes sweet and uplifting instead – albeit a tad wishy-washy.