Song for Marion is a stolidly English piece of work, set somewhere Tyneside. It is heart-warming, life-affirming, tear-jerking, but sadly it is not much more than that.
Grumpy Arthur (Terence Stamp) has been married for decades to extrovert Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) who is a member of a choir who sing pop songs in close harmony. These are unusual songs for senior citizens to be singing, things like Crazy, popularised some years back by Gnarls Barkley, and Salt-n- Pepa's Let's Talk About Sex.
But the unlikely couple are devoted to each other. So you get Marion’s exuberance with her musical friends, and life in the tiny terraced house with Arthur. He thinks these oldies are letting themselves in for ridicule, particularly when choir director Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) enters them in a major competition.
Elizabeth just loves working voluntarily with the oldies, but she has a day job, teaching “s***** little boys” music, as she tells Arthur. S***** little boys? Hmm. The usage doesn’t fit Elizabeth's warm character and amounts to a bum note in an otherwise servicable screenplay from director/writer Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton).
In one scene, The OAPz, as they are called, do a heavy metal-style number, in which an elderly bottle blonde dear plays the drums with fearsome Simon Kirke-like dedication. An old geezer plays air guitar and makes faces. You better find that kind of thing funny because this crucial scene goes on for quite some time.
Then, suddenly, the mood changes. Marion begins to sing True Colours and Arthur begins to melt listening to his wife’s fragile rendition of the old Cyndi Lauper classic. Will this rough diamond finally come out of the permafrost and get in touch with his emotions?
Redgrave is marvellous and towering - well, she is extraordinarily tall - as Marion. It’s a pity, though, that in the autumn of their years, we are not seeing two veteran actors in a more ambitious and less sentimental film. Then there is the matter of the bitter relationship between Arthur and his son James (Christopher Eccleston). We never discover just what all that aggro is about, but both actors handle the relationship extraordinarily well.
Now what would Terence Davies or Mike Leigh do with such material? The first thing they would do is ditch the script, because it is too pat, too functional. But Davies and Leigh operate at a different level of film-making.