I recently lost my grandmother to cancer so this film hit home. The trailer portrays Unfinished Song as a light-hearted comedy that pokes fun at a grumpy old stick-in-the-mud named Arthur Harris (Terence Stamp). Whilst his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is seen to be unwell, the severity of her illness is withheld. You have been warned. That is not to say that Unfinished Song is overly morbid or depressing. It is a love film.
And it is a lovely film that teeters on a knife edge, alternately making its audience laugh and cry and at times doing both simultaneously. Writer and director Paul Andrew Williams achieves this with apparent ease. The script is subtle and understated and the performances he garners from his cast are emblematic of this. Stamp and Redgrave are tremendous and the strong support they receive from Gemma Arterton and Christoper Eccleston makes this a very well-balanced ensemble production.
Given the subject matter, it is not sentimental or morose but instead has an element of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ to it. We all know what is going to happen so there’s no point crying about it – not for the characters onscreen at least. The show must go on and all that… But at the same time, you can eat as much chips and ice cream as you want.
Marion is part of an alternative choir group of pensioners, aptly named the OAP-Z. They are led by the kind-hearted but unlucky in love school music teacher, Elizabeth (Arterton). Their eclectic repertoire includes Love Shack, The Ace of Spades and Let’s Talk About Sex – amongst others – and their performances are unsurprisingly hilarious.
As the choir group’s ‘journey’ (sorry) towards their final competition progresses, as does the process of Arthur’s grieving. I don’t think it possible for someone of my age to fully comprehend the cavernous void that would be left by such a loss but this film effectively communicates the sense of worthlessness and hopelessness that I can only begin to imagine.
Arthur comments at one point that Marion was the only reason that he used to get up in the morning. Luckily, Elizabeth takes him under her wing and in return receives rather blunt, albeit well-intentioned, guidance from a man who has lost his reason for living. They are unlikely kindred spirits but the concern and mutual respect they have for one another does not feel contrived.
As the curtain falls at the end of the film, the screen fades to black and Unfinished Song is dedicated ‘to family’. It is an ode to what really matters in life. A film about those that you hold dear and the bonds between those people breaking, forming, growing, changing. It is a film about a man who loses his wife but at the same time it is about a lot more than that.