Director: Paul Andrew Williams
When watching and reviewing drama, it can be tricky to decide where emotionality ends and sentimentality begins. In Song For Marion, there are several moments pregnant with emotion, and then they bleed into gushy sentimentality with no restraint or compunction. Bring tissues; the film commands you do so! Any film dealing with cancer will be necessarily emotional, but the golden rule is ‘Less is more.’ Song For Marion is not an exception to prove said rule. Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is married to Arthur (Terence Stamp), and is suffering from a recurrence of cancer. From this setup, there’s two ways to go. The film could be dignified and restrained while still tugging the heartstrings, like Michael Haneke’s Amour. Alas, Song for Marion goes the other way, littered with clichés and mawkishness.
Marion is an active member of a seniors’ musical group, led by the eternally perky Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton at her most cutesy-poo). Arthur is forced to bring Marion to the club meetings, but she requests he take part too. Oh, but old Arthur is a grouch, and will not entertain such silly things! At one point, Marion suggests Arthur could enjoy himself in the group, but Arthur replies ‘You know how I feel about enjoying things.’ This is not a human being; this is a grumpy old man as only exploitative cinema can make them. The only cliché missing is a resentful child to blame Arthur for Marion’s illness. Oh, wait; there is one! (A son, played by Christopher Eccleston).
As events proceed, and Marion’s cancer gets the better of her, Song For Marion gets sappier and sappier. Arthur’s adherence to his wife’s request to stay in the group and the prospect of a singing competition send the sugariness to diabetes-inducing levels.
Despite this, Stamp and Redgrave lend much needed dignity to the film. Her warmth and his presence elevate the film above the sappiness. One scene sees Marion lead the group in a rendition of ‘True Colours’. For a few moments, the twinkle in Redgrave’s eyes and the quiver in her voice give pause and a lump in the throat. Then, the song ends and we’re back in the sickly maw. A few more scenes come close to honesty, but by the time the climactic concert comes around, Song For Marion will have done anything to cynically make you cry, short of yanking your tear ducts out with pliers. And then, just when you think the enforced weepiness has ended, in comes Celine Dion to whinny out a tune over the end credits. MAKE IT STOP!!
The greatest shame of Song For Marion is that it was written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, who made one of the best British directorial debuts of the last decade, London To Brighton. The energy and promise he showed there has been forgotten and replaced with gushy predictability. A desire for commercial recognition is understandable, but if that is Williams’ aim he’s going about it in a most unpalatable way. Song For Marion is about as pleasant as attempting to inject nougat.