The Closing Night film at the Palm Springs International Film Festival is usually a feel-good-thank-you-for-supporting-the-Festival kind of a movie and the powers that be didn’t disappoint its legions of loyal film aficionados at the screening in the Palm Springs High School’s 1100-seat auditorium on closing night.
“Unfinished Song”, written and directed by English filmmaker Paul Andrew Williams is the light-hearted, poignant and touching love story of Marion and Arthur; a devoted couple of English septuagenarians. The dramedy is the type of movie that just seems to be right up the Brits alley. They have the ability to be able to poke gentle fun at themselves and their culture, and they do it with intelligence, élan and style. (Wow! What a concept)
Williams’ sentimental story stars two actors of the first rank: Terrence Stamp as Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Marion. The two multiple award-winning actors – Stamp for his Oscar Nominated portrayal in 1962 (his first film) as the young, earnest, and strikingly blue-eyed British seaman Billy Budd and Redgrave for her 1978 Academy Award winning mysterious and gritty performance in “Julia” – lead the way. Their performances validate the old saying that stars can indeed raise the bar on less than Academy Award caliber writing.
Stepping into this fast company is young, perky Gemma Arterton as Elizabeth, the understanding upbeat leader of the Senior Center Choir where Marion sings. And then there is Christopher Eccleston as James, Marion and Arthur’s married businessman son who would like to reconcile with his arms-length dad.
“Unfinished Song” revolves around Marion who is a declining cancer patient, and Arthur, her congenitally grumpy husband and all around social grouch who is her caretaker. Arthur is very devoted to Marion in his way, he just doesn’t know how to convey his affection. No one has been able to penetrate the gloom that constantly surrounds him, especially not his son James who has been waiting his entire adult life for Arthur to acknowledge him as a son in some way. But a father-son relationship is not possible for Arthur and men like him. They carry too much personal baggage. For them, there’s just too much distance to bridge that parental gap. Eccleston, however, renders a sympathetic and empathetic performance of a son trying to reach a distant father while trying to maintain his own dignity, and as a son who loves and helps in taking care of his dying mother.
While Arthur spends his time in introspection and walks alone in the park, Marion takes advantage of the time left to her by joining a choir, a long-time passion of hers. Her fellow choristers at the Senior Center are a pleasant, caring, mix of wannabe singers, but their time has obviously come and gone. However, they remain undaunted when Elizabeth informs them that she has entered them into a choir competition (shades of “The Full Monty” and “Calendar Girls”).
Arterton, as Elizabeth, does a fine job as the cheerleader, choral instructor, and mama hen to her brood of elder, albeit, eager chicks. They can’t wait for the competition to begin. And begin is does, but without Marion, who has lost life’s ultimate competition to Mother Nature. Arthur is inconsolable. He’s lost his best friend and life partner and now he wants to make amends for his past mistakes. He is talked into joining the choir and the upcoming competition by Elizabeth, who says “Marion would be pleased and proud if he did.” But Arthur is a tough nut to crack and he remains noncommittal right up to the eleventh hour.
There is always a story that needs to be told, and in this case, to be seen. Reflection on the problems of others often provides an Epiphany, which often turns on a light bulb in one’s own life. “Unfinished Song”, hopefully, could be such a vehicle for many people in movie theatres everywhere.
I believe the Bard summed up this sentimental, two-hanky valentine to love, best when he penned… “All’s Well That Ends Well”. And “Unfinished Song” is definitely worth seeing when it comes to a multiplex near you. Cheers!