Terrence Stamp owns this otherwise mustily conventional feel-gooder about rappin' grannies.
That the elderly are a demographic underrepresented on screen is difficult to ignore. So when a film comes along that provides compassionately written, delicately considered parts for two remarkable actors in their twilight years, we’ve every reason to be as grateful as ever for Michael Haneke.
For those, on the other hand, with an aversion to the chills of an Austrian winter or who felt that his Amour perhaps lacked a certain seasoning, they’ll be pleased to know that all the Salt N Pepa they need can be found in writer/director Paul Andrew Williams' Song For Marion.
All facetiousness aside, if his fourth (and most eager to please) feature remains light years away in both tone and quality from the hurtling immediacy of his 2006 debut London To Brighton, it at least represents a discovery of the cruise control switch after the aggressive swerving between the Daily Mail headline montage of Cherry Tree Lane and the multigenre pile-up that was The Cottage.
Unashamedly manipulative and narratively transparent, Williams benefits enormously here from the committed performances of his septuagenarian leads, even as he struggles to find a balance in tone between the bubblegum commercialism of his storytelling and the often striking nuances evident when Song For Marion is at its best.
For every scene of broad, emotive mugging from members of the background cast during a Glee-inspired choir practice to which Arthur (Terence Stamp) takes his dying wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) at the local community centre, there’s another of truthful, genuinely felt tenderness when the couple are alone.
It’s during these moments, away from the IKEA flatpack plot mechanics, that Williams goes some way to earning the sentiment into which the film slides as it progresses, albeit less through his functional writing than through the spaces in-between, elegantly filled by his quite brilliant leads.
Elsewhere, supporting characters fare less well. Gemma Arterton’s angelic choir leader is charming enough in a one-note role, but an unannounced nightcap with Arthur after a miserable date swiftly reveals itself to be merely an awkward attempt at character shading.
The difficult relationship between Arthur and his increasingly estranged son James (Christopher Eccleston) sounds the creaks in Williams' writing the most however, quickly finding itself holed up in corners with nowhere to go. That said, the Brit filmmaker often has a keen eye for a composition, his widescreen framing at its most effective in a particular shot split down the centre by a dividing wall in the couple’s house.
As James is messing around with his young daughter in the kitchen, Arthur struggles to take an exhausted Marion to bed, his stooped frame as he exits the room a heartbreaking picture of a man bearing the weight of his wife’s imminent death alone as his family play next door. If the film’s later emotional beats play the audience like a cheap violin, it’s almost entirely down to Redgrave and Stamp that one might be inclined to forgive Williams the indulgence.
As good as Redgrave is throughout (and her solo rendition of 'True Colours' makes for a truly touching scene), this is ultimately Terence Stamp’s show. It was 1999 when he told us to "Tell 'em I’m fucking coming!" and while it may have taken him 14 years to get here, boy is he back.
The director of London To Brighton delivers his rapping granny movie.
Cheese grates. Stamp great. In fact, he’s magnificent.
Too emotionally manipulative, but not without its moments of real tenderness and warmth.