Second-class Stamp: Song for Marion

20 February 2013

'Song for Marion', in cinemas from Friday 22 February, marks a change from its director's persistently brutal work to an overload of twee. And Terence Stamp sings.

“Are you gonna give me a kiss?” asks Marion of husband Arthur. “Might not wake up tomorrah.” This brief moment cuts to Song for Marion’s chase: get on with life, live it to the full. Hardened and embittered by his wife’s terminal illness, Arthur (Terence Stamp) will, by the end of this sickly film, rediscover his wonderful singing voice and, true to Marion’s (Vanessa Redgrave) unflinching spirit, join the contemporary choir of which she was a member. Encouraged by volunteer instructor Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), Arthur and the other choir members will enter a national competition singing songs like Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex”. They will be overwhelmed by the formality of the occasion, only to conquer its conservative judging panel and the intergenerational audience. As some of the younger members might admit once they've conquered their cringe: "YOLO".

Mechanical and corny, Song for Marion is pleasant enough but for its reliance on overly familiar plot strands and shorthand characters that never quite ring true. Elizabeth is the choir’s inexhaustible instructor, whose job as a teacher is only referenced, and whose love life is a shambles, despite her impossibly self-knowing understanding and patience. The film is also structurally routine, working through the motions towards its neat resolutions – which also include a subplot concerning Arthur’s estranged relationship with his son James (Christopher Eccleston). Tonally at least, this is a curious turn for writer-director Paul Andrew Williams after the rarely-seen horrors The Cottage (2008) and Cherry Tree Lane (2010), and whose debut feature London to Brighton (2006) was a persistently brutal, seedy thriller. Like that film, though, this is photographed with a near absence of master shots, so that its visuals only heighten the narrative claustrophobia. And a sequence in which Elizabeth teaches her pensioners to “do the Robot” is far more wince-inducing than anything in Williams’s previous films.

[Originally posted to Front Row Reviews on 23 October, 2012.]