Weather Updates

In ‘Unfinished Song,’ an old grump finds redemption through music



storyidforme: 51079171
tmspicid: 19069103
fileheaderid: 8616409


Arthur Terence Stamp

Marion Vanessa Redgrave

James Christopher Eccleston

Liz Gemma Arterton

The Weinstein Co. presents a film written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Running time: 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual references and rude gestures). Opening Friday at Landmark Century.

Updated: July 30, 2013 6:05AM

The senior demographic has been getting a lot of love lately from the likes of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Quartet” and “Amour,” and this modest, tear-jerking charmer fits right in with the welcome trend. Just don’t expect too much more than what shows on its paint-by-numbers surface.

“Unfinished Song” tells the story of a miserable old curmudgeon named Arthur (English icon Terence Stamp at his best). Arthur pretty much disapproves of everybody and everything, including his estranged son James (Christopher Eccleston). He particularly dislikes the community-center choir that gives his beloved wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave, also excellent) a great deal of joy, which isn’t something Arthur knows much about. “You know how I feel about enjoying things,” he sneers to his son at one point.

He’s a bit Grinch-like, old Arthur is, so it wouldn’t have been surprising to see this tale of belated redemption set during the Christmas season. Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams (entirely reversing his predilection for crime or horror films) has another approach in mind, though. What Arthur truly cares about in life is Marion — the only one who knows he’s actually “a puffed-up pigeon” with secret depths. So when her long-dormant cancer resurfaces and she devotes her last bit of energy to rehearsing with the OAPZ (the Old Age Pensioners) for a long-shot national choir competition, Arthur finds himself lurking around the community center.

Stamp, who’s 74, doesn’t just lurk, though. He lurks with sullen gravity, standing with hunched shoulders underneath the choir-room window, smoking cigarettes and growling “clear off” to kids who stop to look at him. His Arthur might be miserable, but he’s dead-seriously committed to it and genuinely reluctant to play the fool, as he sees it, with the other warbling oldsters in the choir. It’s an attitude that’s reinforced by the way Williams really does make the supporting seniors look ridiculously cutesy, dressed up in leather to sing Motorhead’s “The Ace of Spades” and vamping through Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby.” Elder abuse, perhaps?

Naturally, Arthur will be drawn into the group by spunky volunteer choir director Liz (Gemma Arterton, much more sociable here than in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”) and, naturally, Arthur will eventually get the chance to prove he does have a heart and soul, after all. While all of that has been predictable from the beginning. Williams pushes his agenda of coaxing Arthur out of his spiny shell without excess sentimentality.

There’s not too much sentiment, but not too little, either. Just enough to make you feel misty-eyed in a way that doesn’t necessarily indicate incipient glaucoma.

Bruce Ingram is a locally based free-lance contributor.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.