Could Be About Terence Stamp
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Lately, we’ve been talking about coming-of-age films. Y’know, films like “The Way, Way Back,” “The Kings of Summer,” “Mud,” “Stand By Me,” “To Kill A Mockingbirds,” on and on. Yes, we all like to reminisce about the angst and travails that came with growing up.
But as we Baby Boomers get older -- and have now spent a lot of time thinking about our youth and the movies that remind us of those halcyon days -- there’s a new genre of film emerging. Let’s call it “embracing-old-age” films until a better term comes along.
These are movies about older folks (like us or our parent) who are coming to terms with growing old. “Quartet” was such a film. So was “Lovely, Still” and “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Robot & Frank.”
Now we have “Unfinished Song,” the dramedy that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Starring Terence Stamp (you may remember him as the young Billy Budd in the same-named movie or the frightening Freddie Clegg in “The Collector” or Supreme Chancellor Valorum in “Star Wars: Episode 1”), here we have the funny story of a curmudgeon named Arthur, an elderly man who has all but given up on life.
Yes, Billy Budd (Stamp, that is) is now 75.
In “Unfinished Song,” Arthur grumpily objects when his cancer-stricken wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to perform in a senior citizens chorus. What if she makes a fool of herself? And what if she uses up her last strength?
Spoiler Alert (although you’ll see as much in the previews): When his wife dies, Arthur winds up taking her place in the chorus -- despite the fact that his own musical tastes favor Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. There, under the direction of Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), he must come to terms with life without Marion.
Blue eyes twinkling, Terence Stamp grins as he points out, “This is the first romantic lead I've been offered since Far From the Madding Crowd. And that was 1966.”
In his day, Stamp was quite the ladies man. He had a long-time affair with his “Far From the Madding Crowd” co-star Julie Christie. He had a tryst with Bridgette Bardot. And he was often photographed with his supermodel inamorata Jean Shrimpton.
As a young man, Terence Stamp was considered “the most beautiful man in film,” although he doesn’t see it that way when he looks at his early films. “I see a creature who was not that good-looking,” he says. "What they're seeing is the work of the lighting cameraman. I’m realistic enough to know I never looked that good in real life.”
Modesty aside, audiences of Baby Boomer women are going to see a still-handsome older man in “Unfinished Song.”
Stamp decided to become an actor at 17. He recalls watching television with his parents and saying out loud, “I could do that.”
“Son,” replied his stern father, “people like us don’t do that. I don’t want you to talk about it again.”
So he didn’t – until he won a scholarship to an acting school.
He became a star just as the phenomenon known as Swinging London hit with full force.
But bad career choices ultimately tripped him up. He turned down the title role in “Alfie,” instead recommending his roommate Michael Caine. It was the role that made Caine a star. And Stamp was considered as a replacement for his friend Sean Connery as James Bond, but he blew the chance.
“Work dried up in 1969,” he shrugs. “I was rejected completely by the business; I never rejected the business. It was a very harsh end of a career that came early.” The part of General Zod in the early “Superman” movies brought him back to the public’s attention.
Now? “I’m looking for roles where there’s a possibility of doing something I haven’t done before. Occasionally, there’ll be one from left field, like ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.’ You go through the fear barrier and emerge on the other side.”
“Unfinished Song” has that theme. And proves that Terence Stamp’s acting career is far from finished.