Due to the film industry’s recent discovery that the elderly are just as eager to go to the cinema as everyone else, and more importantly, are willing to pay for the privilege, our theatres have suddenly been deluged by a plethora of pictures that cater to an older audience. Following in the footsteps of The King’s Speech (2010), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Quartet (2012), Paul Andrew Williams’s Song for Marion is the latest film to acknowledge the economic potential of pensioners and their pensions.
The rather basic plot of Song for Marion is undeniably contrived and from the opening scene it is immediately evident how the story will progress. Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), who is suffering from cancer, is a member of a local choir for the elderly, known as the OAPz, which is organised by a young teacher, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Marion’s husband, Arthur (Terrence Stamp), dislikes the choir and resists Elizabeth’s attempts to get him involved, attributing its participation in a competition to the gradual decline in his wife’s health. It is obvious that Arthur’s relationship with the choir will undoubtedly change, and its pretty much certain that he’ll learn something worthwhile from the experience, becoming a better person in the process. Song for Marion is the latest in a long line of films that purposely adhere to a formulaic structure for their plots, so that the emotional desires of the audience are adequately satisfied. This example of lazy story telling is predominantly associated with children’s films, and consequently it is rather patronising to see it utilised so blatantly in a production tailored for the elderly.
Song for Marion’s depiction of the OAPz similarly contributes to this patronising view of the elderly. The script, for the most part, lacks vigour and originality, falling back on cheap gags at their expense in order to get its laughs. The OAPz are meant to be having fun in the latter stages of their lives but the result of the script is that they quite often appear idiotic. Perhaps Arthur’s initial reticence is justified after all.
Song for Marion is hampered by cheap and cynical ploys, which is frustrating to see in a film that also manages to contain some of the most poignant and well-realised moments in cinema this year. The script may struggle to move us, but its delivery by the principle actors cuts deep into the heart. Vanessa Redgrave’s performance is beautifully understated, expressing a vulnerable, passionate and courageous individual effortlessly, while Terrence Stamp’s portrayal of an emotionally reserved man desperately struggling to contain his emotion as he sees his wife gradually dying before him is exquisitely realised. However, where these actors really excel is the delivery of their songs, which very nearly flooded the cinema by the outpouring of tears they inspired in the audience. Redgrave’s rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colours” gives Anne Hathaway a run for her money, whereas Stamp’s performance of Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” pretty much snatches it out of her hands.
The film is consequently rather unbalanced. It is marred by unoriginality and poor jokes but it is bolstered by some of the greatest British actors delivering very fine performances. However, regardless of its more irritating moments it is always commendable of a film if it manages to make you cry through its raw emotional power, and in this regard, Song for Marion is absolutely a commendable film, just not a great one.