By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Singing the praises of Unfinished Song is easy.
The moving British dramedy — its American title changed from Song for Marion — is what you might call an admirable tearjerker about a seventysomething married couple.
Terence Stamp is Arthur Harris, the gruff, anti-social husband of Marion, the terminally ill cancer patient played by Vanessa Redgrave, still active and enthusiastic as a member of the senior-citizens’ choir at her local community center.
Marion’s health is rapidly declining, although you would hardly know that by observing her upbeat and joyous approach to daily living and her gratefulness for the loved ones she is surrounded by.
Meanwhile, the downbeat but dependable Arthur cares for her around the clock. But not only does he want nothing to do with her musical pursuits, he considers them a distracting nuisance and a waste of their precious, limited time.
And he conveys his attitude to the young woman who leads the choir, a sweet volunteer played by Gemma Arterton.
His disdain becomes painfully obvious when the choir shows up uninvited outside the home of Marion and Arthur one day and serenades them with a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of my Life.” Marion is delighted, Arthur repulsed.
Marion and Arthur also have a grandson by their only son, a well-intentioned mechanic and single dad played by Christoper Eccleston, although Arthur’s relationship with him is so strained as to be nonexistent.
As Marion’s health deteriorates precipitously, everybody around him urges Arthur to take Marion’s place in the choir. Reluctantly -– very reluctantly -– the miserable Arthur, who wants to have absolutely nothing to do with the choir but just as adamantly wants to please Marion, agrees to give it a shot.
Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams leads the charge by storming our tear ducts, but in a heartfelt way that does not make us feel exploited or manipulated. Although some of the musical scenes, as the choir takes on unfamiliar songs about too-familiar subjects, hit false notes, the interaction within the family is first-rate in quietly compelling scenes that wear their considerable verisimilitude like comfortable clothing.
Williams’ trump cards are his actors. Stamp is sturdily nuanced and understatedly expressive, Arterton disarmingly charming, and the consummate Redgrave so spectacularly luminous and yet convincingly three-dimensional that she comes close to stepping off the movie screen and sitting down among us.
So we’ll croon 3 stars out of 4. The finished product of the tender and poignant Unfinished Song is a lyrical, life-affirming lament.