As studios and filmmakers are coming around to catering for the grey pound (and let’s face it, cinema should be there to tell stories which straddle age barriers anyway), Song for Marion arrives with an emotional wallop and an enjoyably feel-good vibe which should see a fair share of wrinkled bottoms on seats for the next couple of weeks.
Using the world explored in the 2007 documentary Young @ Heart as a basis, this somewhat radical departure from London to Brighton and Cherrytree Lane director Paul Andrew Williams is a heartfelt and surprisingly touching look at loss and love, buoyed by two stunning performances from its elderly leads.
Vanessa Redgrave is the titular character, a wheelchair-bound cancer sufferer whose fight has left her severely weakened, although she’s still insistent on attending her regular singing class at the local community centre, much to the irritation of husband, Arthur (Terence Stamp). He sees his wife’s hobby, where a chorus of similar-aged pensioners belt out contemporary pop tunes, as a waste of time and potential embarrassment, particularly when their spirited and enthusiastic young teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) enters the group into a regional talent show.
When Marion takes a turn for the worst, Arthur finds himself gravitating towards his wife’s musical group members (who Elizabeth has affectionately dubbed the OAPz) which begins to gradually chip away at his curmudgeon ways, and offers a glimpse of hope and support for him as he takes enters a new phase of his life.
Direction-wise, Williams keeps things relatively straightforward here, and more importantly, doesn’t let his camera get in the way of his performers. Stamp perfectly captures that stoic, tough love routine when a life partner is ill (and the emotional wall that is sometimes built up) and Redgrave is just incredible here. She’s the film’s true shining light, and the vulnerable solo she performs at a summer fete will have even the most hardened cynics reaching for the nearest tissue. Arterton is also great as the bubbly organiser, even if her part is a little underwritten.
Apart from the broader slapstick scenes involving the physical limitations of the pensioners (which look like they belong in another film), Song for Marion seldom puts a foot wrong, and even the somewhat predictable finale still manages to stay on the right side of schmaltz. The very human depiction of loss and sorrow is another welcoming aspect, and similar to the likes of Brassed Off, there’s something very appealing about a film which wears its heart on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to go for those grand, demonstrative gestures.
Song for Marion is imbued with a warmth and sensitivity, and while it may hit those familiar weepie conventions, there’s much enjoyment to be had here, particularly in seeing two seasoned performers giving it their all.