In the six years since his astonishing debut London to Brighton, writer/director Paul Andrew Williams has made his name as one of the UK’s most exciting young directors. Certainly, follow up films The Cottage, The Children (which Williams wrote) and Cherry Tree Lane are the calling cards of a bold new voice in genre filmmaking. Which is why his latest, Song for Marion, comes as something of a surprise. For while it may deal with the similar themes of mortality, loss and survival explored in Anderson’s previous works, it does so in a very different way indeed.
Arthur (Stamp) and Marion (Redgrave) have been married for years and, although complete opposites—she is optimistic and social, he is sullen and withdrawn-are obviously soulmates. Arthur’s life is utterly destroyed when Marion succumbs to cancer, his grief driving a bigger wedge between himself and grown up son James (Eccleston). Arthur’s only real connection is with Elizabeth (Arterton), the leader of the pensioner’s choir which had been so important to Marion during her final months. Elizabeth is convinced that Arthur will find some peace if he joins the choir; Arthur, however, is determined to deal with his pain alone.
While terminal illness is a mainstay of melodrama, and can be unbearably mawkish, even contrived, in the wrong hands, Song for Marion is a balanced, deeply moving look at the impact of loss. It doesn’t linger on Marion’s suffering—indeed, she demonstrates an
elegant acceptance of her fate—but rather concentrates on the impact of such seismic trauma on those left behind. In that regard it becomes an achingly personal study of sorrow, with much that will be familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one. As William’s measured screenplay observes, the raw emotions of grief are not often played out with wailing to the heavens, but by small, instinctive gestures. Arthur’s reluctance to sleep alone in his marital bed is one such deeply poignant moment; though low-key in tone, it resonates with a genuine sense of heartache.
Contrasted with Arthur’s quiet sorrow is the colourful character of Elizabeth, played with vim and vigour by a hugely endearing Arterton. While the restorative power of music may be a well-worn cinematic trope, Elizabeth’s choir is so charming and upbeat that it’s not difficult to get swept up in their good humour They provide a counterpoint to Arthur’s grief—as well as some essential comic relief— and underscore the difficulty he is having connecting with life’s pleasures.
Ultimately, while Arthur’s road to some form of salvation may be a conventional one, Stamp is so wonderful in the role, and his journey so beautifully written, that it’s easy to cheer him on every step of the way. And when Arthur makes his climactic gesture, the crowning moment in Stamp’s exceptional performance, there is unlikely to be a dry eye in the house.