views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Song For Marion (PG)
Curzon, Soho
21st January 2013


Apparently, being able to sit through the first ten minutes of Up without shedding a tear means you have a heart of stone. But despite this affliction, even I couldn't watch Song For Marion without blubbing like a baby. Writer and director Paul Andrew Williams has drawn on some personal experiences to deliver a powerful film with a strong emotional punch. And that's especially surprising for someone whose past work has largely consisted of shlocky, low-budget horror flicks.

Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp are, of course, excellent as always. But Williams arms them with a veritable arsenal of tear-inducing plot lines anyway, ramping up the sadness of their performances to an even higher level. Not only does Marion (Redgrave) have cancer, but it turns out to be untreatable. And if that's not enough, Williams takes the dying woman, plonks her in front of an audience that includes her husband, son and grandchild, and has her sing a raw version of Cyndi Lauper's classic True Colours. For the majority of this film, it really does feel like Williams has written it with the sole purpose of getting us to weep rather than scream.

Thankfully, Song For Marion does have a bit more depth. Granted, we have some predictable tropes, such as Marion's choir The OAPZ trying to win a trophy in her memory. Whenever a group of amateur singers sign up for a talent show, we know there will be setbacks, but there has to ultimately be a happy conclusion. We're not stupid, we were paying attention during Glee and Pitch Perfect.

There are some more poignant subplots though, such as how Williams explores the fractured relationship between Arthur (Stamp) and his son James (again, the always sublime Christopher Eccleston). There hasn't been any big blow-up, just a lower key (and arguably more realistic) take - when James was born, Arthur never really bonded with him properly and he's spent the past few decades pretending that's okay. Without Marion to mediate, we see the two men drift apart at an alarmingly fast yet believable speed. It's heartbreaking and realistic - do take note, Die Hard's Skip Woods. This how you write a father-son dynamic.

If there is a criticism to be made of Eccleston's role, it's that he doesn't get more on screen time. The emotions here feel less contrived, with his failure to connect with his father something that just happens to be sad, rather than another device that Williams has written in purely to upset us. Exploring this particular plot in more detail would have been welcome.

Along with Eccleston, Gemma Arterton delivers a solid performance in the form of choir leader Elizabeth. It may not quite have the glamour of being a James Bond girl - for one thing, we find Elizabeth sobbing in Arthur's living room about not having any friends of her own age to play with - but she adapts to this girl-next-door role well, and charms us.

A younger crowd may find a bunch of pensioners belting out Motorhead and Salt-n-Pepa slightly uncomfortable, but it's downright hilarious and these moments help break up the sobbing, giving you time to rehydrate. And whippersnappers aren't really the intended audience - just as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel won round the silver pound, Song For Marion is set to be popular with those of a certain age.

At only 93 minutes, this may feel like an easier option than epic length Cloud Atlas or even Life of Pi, which is still playing at selected cinemas, but take my word for it, it's an draining (in a good way) movie, rather than a quick flick. Hankies at the ready, ladies.

Song for Marion was released in the UK on 22nd February 2013.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Northern)

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