"Terrifying" is how director Paul Andrew Williams, more used to working with
inexperienced young actors and unknowns, recalls the prospect of working with
British acting royalty Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp. "I mean you have an
Oscar-winner and a cinematic icon. And obviously you don't get them to read, and
we had no budget for rehearsal time, so you have no idea what they are going to do
until you literally get the first take. They were both very much like 'trust me.' And I did."
Paul wasn't the only person on set who felt intimidated. Rising young star Gemma
Arterton (PRINCE OF PERSIA, ST TRINIAN'S, TAMARA DREWE), who spent 6 months
learning the piano for her role, admits to being really nervous at working with "one of
the best actresses ever in the whole world." Despite starring in several big budget
action blockbusters like QUANTUM OF SOLACE and CLASH OF THE TITANS, Arterton
considers UNFINISHED SONG one of the most challenging jobs she's had so far. That
was partly due to the lack of rehearsal time and the fact that her character in the
film, Elizabeth, is so unlike herself. "She's very bubbly, but she's a plain Jane and
ungainly and she doesn't really have a life because all her time is spent teaching or
with the choir," says Arterton. "I didn't want to make her annoying, but she's got to
be the sort of person that is not really cool or appealing to her own age group. I tried
to remember the classical musicians at school who didn't really go out and get
wasted as teenagers because they always had choir practice!"
Another actor who struggled to relate to his character was Terence Stamp (THE
LIMEY, THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT). Strikingly handsome,
the vigorous, Oscar-nominated star has always had a magnetic on screen presence
and struggled to picture himself as an old man. "I had a lot of trepidation," he
confesses. "It wasn't that I didn't feel I could do it. It just felt like a big reach. Arthur is
not really older than me, but I visualize him as older. I'm not like Arthur. I'm very active
and fit, so on a vanity level it was a kind of unnerving commitment." Arthur is in almost
every scene. "It really is Arthur's film. It's his journey," says producer Ken Marshall.
"Finding Terence Stamp to play that part was almost unbelievable. It's an amazing
role and we really wanted someone who could do the part justice." Stamp knew it
was vital that he connected to his character if he was to carry the film. The moment
of revelation came when he met and talked to writer/director Paul Andrew Williams.
"Paul told me he envisaged Arthur as kind of based on his dad and I then realized it
was kind of about my dad as well. My father was unusually good looking and my
mother was completely besotted with him, even though he was emotionally closed
For Christopher Eccleston, who plays Marion and Arthur's son James, the decision to
sign up for UNFINISHED SONG was an easy one. From OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH to
FLESH AND BLOOD he's been frequently drawn to father-son relationships. Though
Eccleston has a fantastic relationship with his own father, he recognized the truth of
the Arthur and James dynamic. "I think in Britain the way working class men of past
generations of fathers and sons related to each other is that there was an awful lot of
love without a lot of closeness," he says. "There was no expression of love. And the
relationship that Terence and I portray very much draws from that pool. But with the
loss of their mother and their wife they're forced into each other's orbit and it's
important in the film that they move towards redemption." To Eccleston the lack of
rehearsal time for the film didn't really matter: "The three of us were well cast
together as a family." A well-established and respected actor himself, he still felt very
much the eager-to-learn junior. "I've seen Vanessa on stage many, many times and
sat in the audience in awe. It's a big deal for an actor to get to work with another
actor like that."
The other key relationship in the film is that between Marion and Arthur. "Most people
today would be divorced 60 times over if they were to be married for as long as these
two," says writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, who wanted his story to show the
deep connection and love that elderly married couples have that is different from
"She just adores him," Vanessa Redgrave says simply of her character Marion's
relationship to husband, Arthur. "And he adores her -- but it's more hidden and
nuanced. Like many couples, to an outsider it would seem like this isn't much of a
marriage, but actually the two of them love each other very much."
"Vanessa is a legend," declares producer Ken Marshall. "She's not only an Oscar-
winner and a BAFTA Fellow; she's won and been nominated for countless awards like
Tonys and Emmys. She's a creative force. It's humbling when someone like that really
responds to the script. I think we were almost hesitant at first that she might be too big
for this film. But she and Paul really connected and he said 'she's the one.'"
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