It might sound like crowd pleasing pap on the surface, but Paul Andrew Williams (known mainly for UK suspense thrillers) delivers an emotionally weighty and well acted tale of love and loss that’s buoyed by one of actor Terence Stamp’s best performances. Unfinished Song goes straight for every artery of the heart, not just the string sections, but it’s shamelessness is kept fully in check and this story of a jaded man staring down loneliness comes with just the right attitude.
When his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) joins a Young at Heart styled choir for the elderly singing pop hits despite her body being ravaged by terminal cancer, cantankerous and scared Arthur (Stamp) realizes that the glee club that brings his wife so much joy is his last chance of bonding with his wife. After her passing, Arthur begins to bond with the group’s normally cheerful younger conductor (Gemma Arterton) while trying to make sense of his strained relationship to his son (Christopher Eccleston).
The four leads all have their moments of greatness, elevating the material to a plane higher than lesser hands could have ever hoped to achieve. Stamp is every bit a commanding screen presence as he was back in the 1960s and he hasn’t lost a step. Arthur’s sadness is palpable and his initial disdain for those around him is almost understandable and sympathetic. Adding Redgrave as his significant other only makes things even better than the material might ultimately deserve, with their relationship graciously getting more screen time than most films of this nature would ultimately allow. Arthur’s relationships with Arterton and Eccleston also add copious amounts of character notes to create a satisfyingly fleshed out experience.
While not all of them sing, they all have their solos and high notes. When Redgrave and Stamp get their solo musical numbers – both of which are positively devastating and beautiful – they become effective because Williams has actually been building to something rather than just stringing the audience along and plucking at their heartstrings. Stamp’s performance here brilliantly showcases the grey area where love, loneliness, and impending sense of loss tragically meet; he’s not morose, just confused and closed off. Even when things take a turn for the pat and obvious towards the end, Stamp and Williams go on with the show, keeping the film warm and vibrant.