It was something of a homecoming for Song for Marion writer/director Paul Andrew Williams and producer Ken Marshall as they brought the film back to County Durham, where it shot.
Northern Film + Media, Durham County Counil, Northstar Ventures and Coolmore Productions hosted a screening on Jan 30 at Durham’s Gala Theatre with more than 300 locals in attendance.
The story follows a grumpy old man (Terence Stamp) who learns to love life again after joining the unconventional choir beloved by his ill wife (Vanessa Redgrave).
They shot the film in and around Durham and Newcastle in summer 2011, and they found the community really rallied behind the production, from St Francis Hall and Durham Johnston School offering locations to local choir members making up the film’s pivotal on-screen choir, The OAP’Z.
Williams said: “The great thing about he choir was that were the most up-for-it kind of people to have on set. They were exciting for me because they actually wanted to be there. We’ll be extremely grateful for this area for all those people.” (Richard Scott of Heaton Voices was pivotal to the production.)
Marshall, who produced alongside Philip Moross of The Cutting Edge Group, noted: “It was a fantastic experience working up here. And the community showed incredible support and enthusiasm.”
Williams was nostalgic returning to Durham. “It was such a great experience here, it brought back a lot of memories being back tonight,” he said.
Williams and Marshall, who founded Steel Mill Pictures together, agree that Marion represents a warmer vibe than their past films London To Brighton, The Cottage and Cherry Tree Lane. Marshall said with a laugh: “It was a nice change to make something our parents could watch and there wasn’t too much blood and murder.”
Williams added: “It’s a bit more commercial if you like because it’s not got beheading or raping or swearing, so that hopefully means more people are going to want to go to see the film. “
Marshall said that the current boom in cinema for older audiences wasn’t something they considered when making the film, but it might help to attract audiences. “We were developing this for six years, and six years ago there wasn’t this talk about grey-pound cinema or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. We were just trying to develop a film that people might identify with, and a film that meant something to us.”
Williams said working with the likes of Redgrave and Stamp was at first intimidating but he realised: “They’re normal people they have the same sort of confidence and insecurities that other actors do. And it was actually really great, they brought so much to me and the film.
The writer-director drew on his own grandparents’ lives for inspiration, and he said writing a film about a different generation wasn’t an obstacle for him. “I believe that all of us have family and we deal with various ups and downs of being in that family, I look at my grandparents and look back at the different relationships between them. And relationships of people my age. When it comes to being a writer, it was more just observations of being in a family. I never thought about it as ‘oh I’m writing about these old people.’ I just thought, ‘I’m writing about people.’”
Song For Marion already had its world premiere with the prestigious closing night slot at Toronto and also had a gala screening at the BFI London Film Festival. eOne releases the film in Newcastle from Feb 8 and across the UK on Feb 22. The film is also getting a special screening on Sunday at the BFI. The Weinstein Company will release in the US in June under the title Unfinished Song.