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Soundtrack review: Great expectations (Patrick Doyle, 1998)

Composer of the month Patrick Doyle month

Soundtrack review: Great expectations (Patrick Doyle, 1998)


I can’t put the finger on why “Great expectations” means so much to me or what has created this unbreakable emotional connection between me and this score, one of the strongest I have with any score. Is it because of how much I loved the movie? Is it because of the period when it came out? I saw it in the spring of my first year in college, one of the happiest years of my life. I saw it with three guys from college one afternoon, skipping classes, and right after it ended was the first time the four of us got out for a drink and started a great friendship. Was it how impressionable I was back then by such storms of feelings as those described in the movie? Was it Gwyneth Paltrow ? Maybe it was just Robert De Niro’s short but magnetic appearance….Maybe it was all of these combined. Or maybe it’s just the amazing music Patrick Doyle was able to write while being very sick (he was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after finishing his work for “Great expectations”). Yes, I think music is the biggest reason….

“Great expectations” is a story about feelings, obsession, addiction, longing…Alfonso Cuaron adapted it in a modern vision that had even more intensity. Feelings don’t take their time to develop here; they just explode and devour everything around them. The score fits that vision perfectly.

The beginning has the same feeling of the overture of a concert. The strings are barely touched, it’s just a gust of wind…and a permanent whistle introducing us in a world of childhood…Then Tori Amos whispers…and when one of the best female voices in the world does even something as easy as hum, you feel it… That’s all this cue is: a solo whistler and Tori Amos. It’s enough that I feel something explode inside me: a happy summer world where the sun shine brightly and there’s nature all around me…I can play all day, there are no restrictions, limits or deadlines. It’s the perfect song to lie in the grass and daydream…Welcome back to your childhood…there’s more to come!

“Crossing the Gulf” uses a tender flute and chimes to suggest the imagery of being outside, in the nature. It has the tone of a childhood mystery: exciting, not at all threatening … The “Paradiso perduto” theme is a beautiful, sweeping melody that floats carelessly through the world Patrick Doyle has just created. Tori Amos plays hide and seek with the listener and invites us to play in a sweet and innocent way…Again, the feeling of exploration, discovery and mystery I get from this music is almost unparalleled. These first three tracks sent me back to my early childhood summers at my grandparents, to the park there which was my most treasured territory, with its lake, its small hill that looked huge when I was a kid, with all its hiding places.

Then we grow up, and the feelings get more intense, more consuming, and more painful. “Estella’s theme” is a sad guitar piece that lays the seeds of the thundering “I saw no shadow of another parting” theme. The volcano of feelings is only boiling in this theme, blowing some smoke every now and then, building up in the underground. I listen to this cue and I get ready and really excited about what will come next. I know this score, I know the path, I know the feelings.

“A walk in the park” presents the main theme in a guitar version. It’s serene, bright before the clouds start gathering and the opera aria “I saw no shadow of another parting” starts. It’s sung by the famous soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa and it will break your heart. It’s a perfect representation of what the story means, of Estella’s fickle nature and of how deeply she affects Finn. Patrick Doyle could write opera without worrying. He would be brilliant in it. Brilliant is also the way in which he incorporates the end quote from the book in this score. The Aria is the prelude to the turning point of the score, “Kissing in the rain”, where the feelings just collide into a firework of a theme. I have the scene from the movie vividly in my mind when I hear this track. We exchange Tori Amos’ background vocals for Miriam Stockley’s, and I dare anyone to feel like that’s a bad deal. Two of the most wonderful female voices in the world lend their magic to this score. “Kissing in the rain” is my favorite cue from “Great expectations”, it’s a nonstop goose bump fest, and it ends act 1.

The score continues with the sad period. Piano dominates the next few cues. All the tracks are beautiful and allow us to rest after the storm. My favorite peace from this part of the score is “The day all my dreams came true”. It’s the triumph, the recognition, the celebration and the reward for the main character’s sufferings. It contains a reprise of that beautiful main theme we already know by now.

“Great expectations” is the best score Patrick Doyle has ever written, and one of my favorites of all time. The emotion, the intensity and the nostalgia it brings to me are almost unparalleled. It’s a pity there’s not a longer version available…yet…

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 48 / 48

Album excellence: 100%

Cues to listen to:


Crossing The Gulf

Paradiso Perduto

Estella’s Theme

Ain’t Love Grand

A Walk in the Park

I Saw No Shadow of Another Parting (The Aria)

Kissing in the Rain

Joe Leaves

The Day All My Dreams Came True

Pyramid of Pain

Planes on a Plane

A Toast


Paradiso Perduto Revisited

It Was Just My Memory Of It

The Price of Success

Lustig dies

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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