Marion is a keen member of local choir OAPz and her husband Arthur not such a keen bystander at their rehearsals. When Marion is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Arthur is quick to blame the choir for over-tiring her and making her worse. As things progress, will Arthur warm to the choir and get involved himself? And will he ever repair his relationship with his son James?
Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Hansl and Gretel:Witch Hunters )
Christopher Ecclestone (The Others, Dr Who)
Terence Stamp (Superman, Young Guns)
Vanessa Redgrave (Blow-Up, Murder on the Orient Express)
Written & Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams (Cherry Tree Lane, London to Brighton)
I knew from the trailer that this one might be a Bit of a Weepy. It’s very easy to make me cry at films – a hint of a reconciliation here, a puppy in jeopardy there – and a sleepless week and subject matter that was just that bit too pertinent meant that this film totally destroyed me. I sobbed all the way through, starting around 2 minutes in. You, of course, may be of slightly sounder mind than me, and able to withstand an attack on the emotions like this and so for your sake I will attempt to review this objectively.
The central performances are excellent. What else would you expect from such acting titans as Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp? Terence Stamp’s character Arthur, undergoes a massive journey in this film – from grumpy curmudgeon to enlightened grumpy curmudgeon – and the subtlety with which Stamp handles the transition is beautiful. If it had been over-played, it would have lost its realism. Instead, you see occasional flashes of sunlight through the hard exterior, but he’s never can-canning his way across the stage.
A film like this is naturally going to be sentimental. But it never tips over into the excruciatingly slushy. It’s always just cynical enough to stop it being sickly. Even moments that seem sickly on paper – a man singing about his lost “angel” – work well in the context. The cast were emotional without being over-dramatic and the sad background music was never overwhelming.
And bits of it are genuinely funny. The trailer shot of the OAPz singing “let’s talk about sex” was a highlight, even if the joke was slightly laboured. On that point, it seems that I’ve developed quite a habit of reviewing films where pensioners talk about sex (see also “Quartet”). As niches go, it’s not one I feel particularly comfortable in. So, funny as it is, I’ve probably seen enough of that for now. But there were other comedy moments too. My favourite bit was when the old men donned fright wigs and leather jackets to perform a spirited Motorhead classic. You’ve got to love a pensioner doing a “wild but sexy” face.
It has to be said, the plot is slightly predictable and can mainly be gleaned from the trailer – grumpy old man gains redemption through music – but there are enough little twists towards the end to keep it interesting. And in this film, the plot isn’t actually that important. It’s all about the execution, and that is done very, very well.
It is also a very British film, despite the attempts at multi-cultural casting. The spirit of keeping calm in the face of tragedy is a very British trait, as was the copious amounts of tea both discussed and drunk in the film. Arthur’s emotionally-repressed character is also a model of British restraint. In the scene where he talks to his granddaughter over the playground fence, notice what he gives her. It’s a Fudge, that 15p treat (that’s a 25 cents treat for any Americans reading). In some American films, he may have turned up with a huge box of chocolates or an extravagant teddy bear but no, he doesn’t even stretch to a Dairy Milk. That moment, for me, somehow summed up Arthur’s character. It’s also telling that the only scene in which he unleashes his grief, it’s done behind closed doors. The dark humour is also very British in flavour – like the scene when Timothy injuries himself while doing “The Robot”.
Obviously, there needs to be a word in there for Gemma Arterton. She has irritated me in the past, through no fault of her own, but she did a good job as the co-ordinator, driving force and all-round cheerleader for the OAPz. I’ve got to admit, though, that the sub-plot involving her love life didn’t interest me very much. It was too slight to really be worth much and took the focus away from the main plot. There were a few awkward moments where I thought she and Arthur were going to kiss, but no, thankfully their relationship stayed on a believable father-daughter level.
I only have 2 criticisms – the first being Christopher Ecclestone’s accent. I love Christopher Ecclestone as an actor, although there’s a real life curmudgeon!- and I loved him in this, but his London-ish accent was just a little weird. I noticed that the film was shot in Durham, but presumably it wasn’t set there, otherwise he could have just used his perfectly nice northern accent. I guess it was to fit in with the other characters’ southern accents, but it grated a little.
The second criticism is the irresponsible food hygiene demonstrated during the cake-baking scene. You never lick a spoon and put it back in the bowl! I’ve been through this a million times with my 3-year-old. Other than those things, which I’ll admit are petty, it was a beautiful film. I can’t say it was a joy – it was far too upsetting for that- but it was poignant, touching and brilliant.
Watch if: you enjoy a film with real heart
Don’t watch if: you can’t stand sentimentality
Overall Rating – 9/10
Kate Milner – @LondonWAToddler