British director Paul Andrew Williams offers up OAP drama Song for Marion (2012) at this year’s 56th London Film Festival, starring the considerable talents of Vanessa Redgrave, Terrance Stamp, Christopher Eccleston and Gemma Arterton. Marion (Redgrave) and her husband Arthur (Stamp) live in their small suburban bungalow, coping with the fallout of Marion’s recent cancer diagnosis. Refusing to let this news get her down, Marion finds comfort and happiness in her local choir, run by kindly and vivacious school teacher Elizabeth (Arterton).
When Marion’s condition worsens, she attempts to get her cantankerous old husband involved but, unlike his wife, Arthur is not someone who lightens up easily. With scenes of OAPs banging out contemporary(ish) Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy or Salt-n-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex, this light-hearted comedy drama certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. Following on from another LFF Gala showcase, Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet (2012), and the release earlier this year of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Williams’ film indulges itself in all the worst ways, merrily embracing all things emotionally manipulative, clichéd and twee.
Through Marion’s story we receive all the usual tropes of a cancer victim narrative, made more enjoyable than it should be by the casting of Redgrave, who handles the emotional elements of her character well but struggles in a working-class context. Grumpy old man Arthur is similarly well-rendered by Stamp who, like Redgrave, provides a better performance than this drama deserves. The plot itself involves a singing contest which runs at the lightest level of emotional peril and has all the typical will-they-won’t-they-win transition points – climaxing in a scene that attempts to provoke tears, but may struggle to achieve its aim.
Song for Marion could potentially draw in the allusive ‘Grey Pound’, reaching a much underexploited market of cinemagoers, but you can’t help think that our retired population deserve something more. Williams’ latest is all rather patronising, exploiting its aged cast with jokes about old men falling asleep or sex-pot grandmothers still keen to knock knees. Whilst the film’s message is clear – that we should all lighten up about getting old and embrace life (whether we are collecting our pension or not) – it goes in all the wrong directions, leaving a ragbag of emotionally manipulative plot points and poor quality jokes in its wake.
Ultimately, Song for Marion feels like a very weak effort from Williams. If this new trend continues for films about growing old, as audiences we (whatever our age) should ask that they move beyond being trite, patronising and exploitative.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.