Men Who Sing review

From the December 2021 issue of Film Stories.

Get your hands on this great film magazine here!

Ninety-year-old widower Ed Williams is selling the family home. Not only that; he’s been planning his own funeral. When his son, filmmaker Dylan Williams, hears the news, he knows it’s time to return home to help his dad.

An opening voiceover from Dylan explains that he and his father belong to two very different worlds. While Dylan travelled the world as a youngster before putting down roots in Sweden, Ed has always favoured routine in his home town; the sleepy Welsh seaside town of Rhyl. The filmmaker can see the difference in his dad. Ed is reflective but resolute. He wants to sell the house and make arrangements while he still can. But one thing remains constant: he loves to sing in the local male voice choir every Tuesday.

Ed has been singing as a bottom bass with Trelawnyd Choir since he was 24 and used to frequently perform at competitions alongside many of the men who still attend the choir today. However, with an average age of 74, the choir is in desperate need of ‘brown haired men’ to take them forward. The documentary follows the group as they plan a recruitment drive and prepare for their first competition in 20 years.

Men Who Sing is a moving and melancholic love song to Trelawnyd Choir, the uniting power of music and dads everywhere. The documentary warmly invites us into the weekly rehearsals of the choir, led by dedicated musical director Ann Atkinson, and the lives of its members.

The beautiful vocal performances of the men form an affecting backdrop as Ed reflects on his life and treasured memories. He and his friends joke that they’ll soon be “the big choir in the sky,” and a poignant awareness of their mortality runs throughout the film. In one scene, Ed is listening to his favourite arrangement of Psalm 23. It’s a still close-up; Ed enjoying the music while his son’s camera watches on. When the piece finishes, Ed quietly requests the piece be played at his funeral to help him on his way. It feels a privilege to be invited into such an intimate moment.

Dylan Williams’ storytelling is perfectly paced. He gives us insight into Ed’s younger years, the present-day challenges faced by Ed and the choir, and the lives of different choir members, all neatly within the unfolding story as the choir approaches its big competition.

He also expertly balances the film’s heavier themes with uplifting and humorous scenes. When the choir rally together to search for new vocal talent, they call in Gwyn who, having recently wing-walked on a plane for charity, is known for being “up for anything.” Gwyn’s mission: to approach “anybody who’s under 90,” starting with the local Tesco. You cannot help but smile – and often laugh heartily – at the choir members’ endeavours to revitalise their group and the camaraderie among these life-long friends.