Grumpy, cantankerous pensioner Arthur (Terence Stamp) cares for his terminally ill wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), resentfully tolerating her involvement with a local senior citizens choir, the hilariously monickered OAPZ, led by vivacious music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) who encourages the loveable old codgers to sing contemporary pop songs.
A proud, unforgiving man, Arthur has few friends and is estranged from his son James (Christopher Eccleston), his solitary world revolving solely around Marion. When she dies, Arthur is devastated. Lonely, forced to reevaluate his curmudgeonly outlook on life and encouraged by the caring Elizabeth, Arthur grudgingly joins the choir and finds himself slowly drawn out of his shell. But, with a not at all clichéd last act national choir competition looming, can Arthur reconnect with his alienated son and rebuild their broken relationship before it’s too late? Take a wild guess…
Back in 2006, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams exploded onto the UK film scene with the ferocious social realist crime thriller London To Brighton. A dark, violent tale of prostitution, child abuse and redemption, the film announced a bold, visionary new talent who was swiftly anointed the latest saviour of British cinema. Everyone wondered what he would do next.
What he did next was 2008’s gory, blood spattered comic horror The Cottage a film that essentially charts your average weekend break in Suffolk as Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison and Gollum are forced to battle rural inbreds for survival. Everyone kinda scratched their heads, mumbled and shuffled their feet a bit because it wasn’t as good as London To Brighton and was kinda derivative and just a bit, well, inconsequential. But, at least it was still bold.
Williams followed The Cottage up with Cherry Tree Lane, a dark, violent but ultimately disappointing home invasion thriller about a nice middle-class couple being terrorised by some hoodies. A comment on Broken Britain’s underclass that felt like it had been ripped from the rabid pages of the Daily Mail, the best thing about Cherry Tree Lane was the sly reference to Mary Poppins in its title, Cherry Tree Lane of course being the idealised street in the film that the Banks family live on.
Given Williams’ track record then, you could be forgiven for expecting that his tale of Terence Stamp’s widower finding solace in his friendship with choir mistress Gemma Arterton and joining her old biddies in the big choir contest might be a darker affair. That maybe (hopefully!) Stamp might flip and rampage through the choir with a straight razor, saving everyone a trip to Dignitas. Or go a bit Harry Brown and take out those kids hanging around outside the community centre. Or maybe get over his grief by brutally punting Gemma Arterton from behind after forcing her to wear his dead wife’s clothes, his face a twisted rictus of hate and rage as he roars “Tell them I’m coming,” like he does in that warehouse scene in The Limey.
Unfortunately, none of these things occur. Though good luck getting that image of Gemma in a dead woman’s clothes out of your head. A tedious, cynical exercise in trying to capture that Silver Surfer audience who made The Exotic Marigold Hotel such a hit, Song For Marion couldn’t be more blatant about the audience it’s going after if it laid a trail of Werther’s Originals right up to the box office.
The resulting film is cringeworthy and the only person to blame unfortunately is writer/director Williams. A thumpingly obvious, feelgood, underdog story where the only way you’ll feel good is if someone took the dog out from under and shot it in the head, Song For Marion is every bit as clichéd and predictable as you could possibly conceive. From the first moment we see a miserable, grumpy Stamp stamping around like Victor Meldrew, we know he’ll find redemption and acceptance by embracing life and leading the choir to victory. We know from the first scene between him and estranged son Eccleston, they’ll eventually reconcile. We know one of the senior ladies will be a randy, aging sexpot simply to give the wonderful Anne Reid the chance to make some HRT jokes like she did on Victoria Woods’dinnerladies. We know despite being more Born To Be Mild than Wild that these kerrr-razy old codgers will rock the reluctant Arthur’s world. We know they’ll sing wildly inappropriate songs like Salt-n-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sexbecause, tee hee, wrinklies talking about S-E-X is funny. And we know they’ll dress all street like today’s yoot coz blood there’s nuttin funnier than your granddad in a backwards baseball cap and shades. The only surprise in the film is that Eccleston and Arterton don’t end up getting together.
The performances are fine for the most part, Stamp going through the motions like a pro while Arterton and Eccleston are good but under utilised. The old duffers are annoying and corny but it’s hardly their fault, they’re not given anything in particular to do other than sing a few pop songs and get on and off a bus. None of them are really differentiated as characters; they’re just one amorphous grey blob of choir. The real revelation however is Vanessa Redgrave who hasn’t been quite this bad since 1971’s Mary, Queen Of Scots where her Scots accent encouraged you to look forward to her decapitation with glee and made Dick Van Dyke’s Cockernee turn in Mary Poppins sound as authentic as Barbara Windsor’s. It’s a horrible statement to make but she just can’t die quickly enough from cancer. In this film obviously.
A nauseating slice of sentimentality that fails principally because you don’t care about ANY of the characters, perhaps the most depressing thing about Song For Marion isn’t the money, time and talent Williams has wasted but that Celine Dion warbles over the credits and it feels entirely fitting.