BY STEVEN ARMOUR
Every once in a while – and all too infrequently these days – a humble British dramedy comes along that warms our hearts and ransacks our emotions, whether it be 1997’s The Full Monty or 2003’s Calendar Girls, or now 2013’s lovingly crafted Song for Marion. This unassuming little tearjerker is refreshingly unabashed in its intentions, which is not only to make us cry, but to highlight the easily taken-for-granted importance of friendship, family, community, and of course, love.
Stone-faced senior, Arthur (Terrence Stamp), is struggling to come to terms with his optimistic wife, Marion’s (Vanessa Redgrave), terminal illness. In his smothering attempts to conserve her energy and protect her, Arthur berates the cheerful local pensioners choir whom Marion is an enthusiastic member of, feeling that her participation is doing more harm than good. Shutting out all those offering to be there for him in his time of need, including his own son (Christopher Eccleston), Arthur eventually finds himself at a loss when the tragically inevitable happens, and begins a new chapter of his life with the help and support of the choir and their conductor (Gemma Arterton).
Song for Marion comes as a departure for director/writer Paul Andrew Williams – more accustomed to gritty crime dramas and darkly humorous horrors (London to Brighton, The Cottage) –, but proves him as more than capable in his first foray into the genre. Williams employs an observant and simple filmmaking style, allowing good old-fashioned storytelling to take precedence as we spend time with identifiable characters and become increasingly drawn in to the close-knit, compassionate community. Considering the sensitive subject matter, Williams’ script finds just the right middle ground between comedy and tragedy, and rather than present uninspired archetypes of debilitated senior citizens, we are provided with very human, fully-realised characters. Undeniably sentimental – almost impossible to avoid in a film of its nature – Song for Marion is so well intentioned that this attribute becomes part of the film’s core message.
Boasting two screen-acting legends, the central performances elevate the film’s relatively standard premise to even greater heights, serving the character-driven material whole-heartedly. The incomparable Vanessa Redgrave makes the most of her limited screen-time, leaving an indelible impression on us once she is gone, and one particular scene involving her heartfelt, personal rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours” will have you in bits. While the majority of the film focuses on Arthur’s journey, it is Redgrave’s Marion who is the soul of the film, with the title a fitting tribute to the character. Stamp is not without his moments either, unafraid to plunder the depths of despair and enter unsympathetic territory to create a man embittered by life’s cruelties, and then saved by its kindness. Aided by a charming supporting cast, the film’s ensemble invigorates the narrative with a joyous energy, and makes Song for Marion a crowd-pleasing, inspirational gem.