With his off-key voice, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart rarely gets through a song.
"Everything happens for a reason."
When you grow old—and even if you're 90, I'm sure you're still thinking of yourself as a youngster—how do you want to go? As a recluse, slowly growing out of touch, or as a vibrant senior out in the community? You might not want to be singing "Let's Talk About Sex, Baby" or "Love Shack" in a seniors' chorus, but the idea of growing old less than gracefully appeals to lots of us.
Unfinished Song stirs the gently irreverent attitude you'd see in a Britcom like Last of the Summer Wine into a drama about a couple's love.
Facts of the Case
Arthur Harris (Terence Stamp, The Adjustment Bureau) waits outside every session—except on his night out with the lads—as his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave, Lee Daniels' The Butler) rehearses with the OAPz—Old Age Pensioners—chorus. One of his nights out is interrupted by some bad news: Marion's cancer has returned, and she's in the hospital. Soon, Arthur learns that she has only a couple of months to live. As the end nears, Marion keeps rehearsing as choir leader Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) encourages Arthur to take more of an interest in her music. Sadly, though, Marion doesn't make it to the finals.
Unfinished Song has an ending you might see coming. At least it's one you only recognize around the midpoint.
For the first half of the film, we're expecting to see Marion triumph at the competition. We get into the rhythms of watching the proverbial couple who love each other but barely communicate. Even with their normal lack of communication, I felt a scene when Marion gave Arthur the silent treatment; he knows everything to do to care for her—he's been doing it wordlessly for years—but it feels different to him and to the viewer. It's echoed later in tender wordless scenes when Marion is too weak to talk and move.
Marion's death brings a change, though. Now the story is about Arthur and Elizabeth as the misfit teacher starts to push the stony senior into the chorus. Arthur's reluctant—he can sing, but he's more into standards than rock 'n' roll—but we know he's eventually going to join in. We also know that he's going to heal a rocky relationship with his son (Christopher Eccleston, Doctor Who), and the chorus is going to triumph—sort of—at competition.
Unfinished Song is all very TV movie, but very well-done. The performances of Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave in the first half are remarkable, even if they don't do much talking themselves. I really bought into them as a long-time married couple. The second half is more obvious, but Stamp and Gemma Arterton really are convincing with their unlikely friendship, and the story uses Arthur's character well. Even his stony demeanor actually proves an asset in the end. Somehow, it's harder to deter a grump when everyone's sure the competition is lost.
In the end, Arthur's uncommunicative way of getting through life proves to have had a cost. Arthur felt he was letting Marion down, and his son always felt he was letting Arthur down.
The initial hook—the seniors acting immature—is there, but it's only a small part of the story. Most of the time, it's Stamp acting one-on-one with another of the main cast—Redgrave, Arterton, or Christopher Eccleston.
Since the attention's mostly on the acting, we don't notice the direction or the picture that much. However, director Paul Andrew Williams does a fine, understated job. There's lots of music, and we catch every word in the lyrics, which you might not have done in the original versions.
Extras included deleted scenes and outtakes. If you like the movie, the deleted scenes are a must, since they put a little more into the relationships. The outtakes—flubs and laughing—are a waste.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfinished Song is excellently done, but it still ends up with that TV movie predictability. If you're into edgy relationship pictures, skip this one.
A sentimental movie is a matter of taste, but if Unfinished Song sounds even remotely interesting, you should go ahead and see it. The performances—particularly from Terence Stamp—are worth a look.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Deleted Scenes
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.