A feature film made in the North East opens to the public this week. DAVID WHETSTONE attended a gala screening of Song for Marion and spoke to the director.
PAUL Andrew Williams, director of Song For Marion, looked like a pretty cool dude, lounging in the corner of the bar at Durham’s Gala Theatre with his cap worn at a jaunty angle.
Not the type, you’d guess, to have written and directed an intimate film about a devoted elderly couple and an amateur choir.
Familiarity with his first feature film wouldn’t necessarily rid you of that preconception. The award-winning London To Brighton is a tough, breathless tale of gangsters and prostitution.
But the film-maker, born in Portsmouth in 1973, wrote and directed both of these films so clearly he’s no one-trick pony.
He was in Durham for the regional premiere of Song For Marion and to answer questions about a film that saw local extras joining a starry cast headed by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp on location around the North East.
“We filmed it here about a year-and-a-half ago but I wrote it six years ago,” he said. “It takes that long to get a film made.
“The fact we’ve reached the position to be able to show it here is really cool.”
Redgrave plays Marion, a very sick but strong-willed lady who is heavily dependent on her husband, George (Stamp), who seems to have made grumpiness his life’s calling.
Marion is also dependent on a choir of pensioners who meet in a community centre to be coached by Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), a school music teacher young enough to be their granddaughter.
It sounds very sweet, at least compared with London To Brighton.
“Yes, I’ve made films before that have had blood and guts and stuff,” acknowledged the director.
“But this was a film that I thought would be more accessible to a wider group of people. It wasn’t going to be offensive to anyone. It was a sort of nicer tale. I always think there’s room for everything.
“People make stuff because there’s an audience for it but this film is personal in lots of ways, as everything is to some degree.”
Explaining that the starting point for a film was always a story, he went on: “The idea was always to write and make a film about this man and the choir. The man’s relationship with his wife was always incredibly important too.
“I was wondering what would make an old man like my grandad come out of his shell to the extent that he could sing in front of people. That was really where it came from.”
But why a choir? Was this from personal experience?
“I used to do amateur dramatics back in the day, in Teignmouth, Devon, where I spent my teenage years.
“I sang in choruses and groups but I’m too much of an ego-maniac to want to share any kind of spotlight.
“I really admire the idea of a choir because it’s such a shared thing. You can’t stand out... actually, the only reason you can stand out is for very negative reasons. In a way, in a big choir the quality of your voice is less important than the experience of being in the group.”
Paul said another spark for the film had been a choir competition, Let’s Get Lyrical, staged in aid of St Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth.
“We (himself and producer Ken Marshall) went to watch it and those guys were great. That’s where we met Richard Scott who became the choir organiser and arranged the music.
“We held auditions and it became quite difficult to make choices. There were so many up-for-it kind of people and that made it exciting for me, that so many people actually wanted to be part of it. And they’re all still alive... which is fantastic!”
It says much about his script and his track record that Paul was able to attract such big-name actors as Redgrave and Stamp.
“They’re icons,” he agreed. “They do have a mystique about them but when you meet them you realise they’re pretty normal. They have the same insecurities as all the actors you work with.