Paul Andrew Williams’ “Unfinished Song” is the gentle story of a marriage and of how music can help make a broken heart whole again.
Arthur (Terence Stamp) and Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) are in the twilight of their many years together: She’s terribly ill with cancer; he takes meticulous care of her but is unable to say what she means to him, or to connect with anyone else. He brings her to rehearsals of her community choir, led by a young woman named Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton); he admonishes their son (Christopher Eccleston) for not visiting more often; mostly, he just watches Marion finding joy in the moment and wonders why he can’t do so.
Stamp and Redgrave are, of course, marvelous together. Does anyone radiate childlike happiness on-screen quite like Redgrave? Her Marion is one of those lucky souls who always finds a reason to smile, and you can see why this sunshiny woman, many decades ago, chose a man who walks around under a cloud – she wanted to be his light. Stamp, quiet and controlled, lets us see Arthur’s pain in the tiniest of glimpses; at one point, after Marion has sung a song for him, his face looks like he might be crying, but somewhere deep inside.
When it steps away from Marion and Arthur, “Unfinished Song” falters.
Elizabeth, despite Arterton’s charms, is a plot device rather than a person (when she shows up late one night to talk to Arthur, it’s because the screenplay requires her to do so, not because there’s any reason why she would), a long final sequence involving a choir competition feels unnecessarily contrived, and Arthur’s up-and-down relationship with his son is disappointingly predictable.
But I won’t deny that Arthur’s big moment in the film’s final act brought tears to my eyes.
Though it’s only Stamp we see, you feel that Redgrave’s still with him; her touching performance still resonates, even when she isn’t there.
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