Terence Stamp plays a husband struggling to cope with his wife’s cancer in Song For Marion (PG), which is on release this week. By Kate Whiting.
His hair may be white now and his face heavily wrinkled, but Terence Stamp has not lost the looks, or charm, that made him an instant film star half a century ago.
Back in that halcyon year of 1962, when the Beatles were releasing their first single Love Me Do and James Bond was about to appear on the big screen for the first time in Dr No, the unknown Stamp was cast as the lead in Peter Ustinov’s Billy Budd, propelling him to global fame.
His relationship with Julie Christie was immortalised in The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset (‘Terry meets Julie...’) and he shared a flat with Michael Caine.
Now aged 74, and still strikingly handsome, Stamp has played what he calls his first ‘OAP role’ in British comedy drama Song For Marion.
He plays Arthur, the cantankerous but doting husband of Marion (Vanessa Redgrave), who struggles to cope when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Estranged from his son James (Christopher Eccleston), Arthur finds an unlikely friendship in Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), the young director of Marion’s community choir.
“It’s always a luxury to get sent a really wonderful script, you know, which this was,” says Stamp, smart in a gunmetal grey suit, his voice a soft growl.
“Then, when I got over my reticence about finally owning up to how old I really was and playing my first OAP, I just thought it was a very unusual love story, the kind of love story they don’t make films about these days.
“It was a way of portraying a love that’s outside the passage of time. I imagined that every day that went past, Arthur and Marion grew fonder of each other.
“And then again,” he says, pausing before he adds: “It was contemplating the end of life. To me it’s something that nobody really talks about but it’s the only really certain thing that’s going to happen isn’t it? We’re going to die.
“I thought it was an unusual, but moving and humorous way of looking at that. And I was rather hoping that everybody that saw the film would be able to empathise with it in some way because it’s a condition that’s common to everyone.”
Arthur grudgingly turns up to watch his wife’s choir perform a small concert, in which a shaven-headed Vanessa Redgrave poignantly sings a solo version of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours after a rousing rendition of Salt ‘n’ Pepper’s Let’s Talk About Sex.
And as Marion’s illness progresses, Arthur reluctantly joins the choir and eventually sings a heartbreakingly moving solo for her during a competition.
Stamp says he didn’t allow himself to get nervous about his solo performance. “I only had two lessons with my teacher to learn the song, but I have studied my voice for my whole career so there’s nothing I don’t know about singing, it’s just that I’ve never done it publicly, in front of the camera, except as a joke.
“So because the movie was going so well, I thought, ‘I’m not going to worry about it, I’ll just see what happens on the day’,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Stamp says he’s grateful that Hollywood suddenly seems to have recognised the power of the silver pound and are making more films with older characters.
“From a purely selfish point of view, it means there are going to be more interesting roles for actors like me,” he says.