Growing old gracefully is easier said than done for Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave, especially in a film that borders on patronising the elderly. Tears of sadness and laughter are quite forcefully jerked by writer/director Paul Andrew Williams; thankfully his leads are able to rise above, playing an old married couple whose life together is rocked by cancer and choir lessons.
Initially, Stamp keeps his emotions bottled up as Arthur, except when he's lashing out at his son (Christopher Eccleston) and members of the local old folks' choir presided over by a young teacher, Elizabeth (a rosy-cheeked Gemma Arterton). Arthur is angry most of the time, but even more so when wife Marion (Redgrave) is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Though Marion is dying, she lives life to the fullest and channels much of her energy into singing with the choir. Presumably, the song choices are intended to reflect that young-at-heart philosophy, but having to sit through the OAPZ's croaky rendition of Salt-n-Pepa's 'Let's Talk About Sex' is surely enough to make viewers young and old wither up in embarrassment.
Following the formula of many a high school musical, a competition is announced that will pit the OAPZ against more traditional choral groups, but for Arthur this means less time with Marion who has been given only two months to live. His grouchiness is met by her with gentle humour and great generosity of spirit, which has obviously been the pattern of their relationship from the start.
Stamp and Redgrave look suitably comfy together, like an old pair of slippers and it's her adoring gaze that softens Arthur's hard edges. Her absence, halfway through the story, changes the tone slightly. Arthur spirals into depression with only Elizabeth daring to reach out to him, but their growing bond doesn't ring as true. His battle of wills with Eccleston proves more compelling.
Gradually, it emerges that Arthur is also gifted with dulcet tones and through the choir, he finds some emotional release. It's a contrived series of events that leads him to be stood before a mike in a crowded auditorium, but once there, Stamp delivers a genuinely rousing performance in tribute to Marion. What's missing is a sincere, heartfelt connection with his backup singers.
Some interesting faces make up the choir, including Anne Reid (The Mother) and Ram John Holder (Porkpie from '90s sitcom Desmond's), but they only have a few one-liners between them. Williams is quite deliberately angling for a quintessentially British kitchen-sink comedy in the vein of The Full Monty and Brassed Off, but he puts cheeky humour ahead of real community spirit.
There isn't as much grit to this either, which is curious given that Williams crashed onto the scene with the brutal yet poignant London to Brighton (and followed up with horror films The Cottage and Cherry Tree Lane). If he's trying to show us his softer side, he's trying too hard. Fortunately, he's saved by older, wiser actors who remember that Britishness means keeping a stiff upper lip.