1-7 March 2013; DCA
The British “feel good” movie seems to have become somewhat of a trend in recent years; the kind of “tear jerkers” that deal with a sad subject matter, but conjure up an uplifting message which encourages everyone to believe that, through trial and tribulation, everything will work out in the end. Naturally, this is the sort of thing most film enthusiasts will roll their eyes at the very thought of and, it must be said, Song for Marion does not do much to discourage such a reaction.
The eponymous Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is an elderly woman who, despite suffering from terminal cancer, retains an optimistic outlook on life. To keep herself occupied, she joins a senior’s choir group organised by Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), who, in an attempt to invigorate the OAPs with a renewed sense of youth, challenges them to sing contemporary songs with subject matter such as sex and other things more often associated with a much younger generation. Marion’s grouchy and antisocial husband, Arthur (Terence Stamp), however, looks on with disapproval, concerned that Marion would be better off not pushing her health to a point of even greater danger. However, Elizabeth slowly begins to break through Arthur’s rough surface and grants him the confidence to reveal his own musical talents.
The film relies heavily on sentimentality, which it seems to attempt to use to disguise the fact that, in nearly all senses, it is a somewhat unremarkable affair. The plot unfolds in a very predictable fashion and the film also struggles to establish much coherence of tone, as it attempts to balance its dramatic elements with bursts of comedy. The emotional scenes lose their impact when jarringly contrasted with old people carrying out wacky, cartoonish antics; the mild comic relief is not enough of a pay-off to warrant this sacrifice. The comic aspect also wears thin very quickly, consisting almost entirely of the repeated joke of pensioners incongruously engaging in activities usually associated with younger people. There are a few moments that justify a slight chuckle, but these boil down to a tiresome repetition by the end.
The characterisation of the film is also somewhat shallow, considering that most of the story is based on Arthur’s character development. Arthur’s flaws are over-emphasised in the early stages of the film, turning him into a somewhat unsympathetic, unlikeable character and making his sudden redemption seem difficult to believe. For example, at a pivotal point of the film, he has a major falling out with his son (Christopher Eccleston), which is seemingly forgotten at the end without much reason (beyond unrealistic sentimentality). Arthur’s relationship with Elizabeth is also sloppily executed. He suddenly warms to her all at once over the course of a very lazy scene which sees him suddenly having the confidence to sing in front of her after spending one car journey together (which the audience does not see), despite having been rude and dismissive towards her in every prior scene.
In terms of acting, most of the performances are perfectly fine, although none stand out as particularly impressive. However, Terrence Stamp was clearly a very bad choice for the role of Arthur. Stamp’s attempts to portray a normal, middle to working class elderly man come across as awkward and flustered; his accent often sounds out of place and strange. This was not helped by the badly written dialogue, which, at one point, turned what was obviously meant to be a tragic scene into an unintentionally humorous one.
While Song for Marion is certainly not a technically great film, it cannot be denied that it is moving, as many of the audience left the screening in tears. Overall, however, Song for Marion is unfortunately lacking in much substance beyond its sentimentality.