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  M.   July 16, 2011

A film which could do for choirs what Brassed Off did for brass bands begins shooting in the North East next week with a glittering cast led by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp.

Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston also star in the film, Song for Marion, and North East extras are being sought to appear as audience members during a six-week shoot.

Locations in County Durham and Newcastle will be used in the film which highlight the increasing popularity of choral singing.

The story, written and directed by Paul Andrew White, is not set specifically in the North East but some of the accents might give the game away.

A choir of talented singers from the region, coached by Richard Scott who directs the Heaton Voices community choir in Newcastle, will feature in the film.

Song for Marion, described by film company Steel Mill Pictures as a “comedic drama”, features a couple in their 70s called Arthur and Marion, played by Stamp and Redgrave.

Arthur, described as a grumpy pensioner, is reluctantly inspired by his wife to join “a highly unconventional local choir”.

“Arthur must confront the undercurrents of his own grumbling persona as he embarks on a hilarious, life-affirming journey of musical self-discovery,” according to the publicity material, although the film also has a tragic theme.

Eccleston plays Arthur’s son James, with whom he has a difficult relationship, while Arterton plays choir director Elizabeth.

Newcastle-based agency Northern Film & Media invited the film-makers to the North East for reconnaissance trips earlier in the year.

Gayle Woodruffe, production service manager at Northern Film & Media, said: “I think filming in the North East will give them the sense of community they are looking for. The film could be set anywhere but it needs to be a place with a real sense of community.”

Gayle said the film involves a choir competition and there was a big choir competition going on in the region when the film-makers came to visit. She added: “When I first read the script I thought it was a lovely story, very uplifting. I think it will appeal to a lot of people.”

Producer Ken Marshall, of Steel Mill Pictures, said their first North East visit coincided with the heats of Let’s Get Lyrical, a choir competition organised to raise money for St Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth.

“We were up scouting locations and it was pure coincidence that we came up at the same time as the heats for the competition,” he said. “We got to sit in on them and it was brilliant.

“Through that we met our choir director, Richard Scott, who heads up Heaton Voices.”

Mr Marshall agreed that Song for Marion was comparable with Brassed Off, a feel-good film highlighting a genre of music not often featured on the big screen.

He said: “I think this has quite a commercial bent to it because of how big choirs are in this country.

“Their popularity has gone through the roof with the coverage of choir competitions on TV and with things like Glee (the American musical comedy series broadcast on Channel 4).”

He added: “With Song for Marion we have the chance to make a hilarious, joyous yet poignant film that will hopefully move audiences to both laughter and tears.

“We took our time with this project as we knew we had to get the casting right to do it justice. We are thrilled with the cast we have secured and are looking forward to the start of the shoot.”

The North East has a strong tradition of choral singing of all types.

The Let’s Get Lyrical competition was won by all-female choir Werca’s Folk, from Northumberland, established by Sandra Kerr who set up the project, 20,000 Voices.

Male voices choirs abound across the region while the national singing project Sing Up, aimed at primary schools, is run by The Sage Gateshead.

Anyone wanting to audition to be an extra in Song for Marion should go to www.songformarion.com.