Film scores

Soundtrack review: Effie Gray (Paul Cantelon – 2015)

Effie-Gray

Victorian age movies always have a certain feel and sound to them. The composers have to be very careful not to disturb the sign of those times; they have to keep a serious outside over a warm inside. I always expect and elegant and beautiful score when it comes to such a story. “Effie Grey” is the story of a beautiful young woman coming of age, and finding her own voice in a world where women were expected to be seen but not heard. It’s about the marriage of Effie Grey and renowned art critic John Ruskin and it stars Emma Thompson of course. It’s a story about repression and intolerance. The music was written by Paul Cantelon who I remember from another period piece, “The other Boleyn girl”. I loved that movie starring Natalie Portman and the music had a great impact.

This score will be familiar territory for me and I won’t expect any surprises. We have to keep the appearances, right? Everything in its precise place while life goes on behind the façade. A constant string melody that lets the piano break through every now and then. Which of the instruments is keeping which contained? Is the piano the society and the violin the woman trying to give in to her hidden passions? There’s a permanent dialogue and dance of these two sounds and they often change roles.

For example in “The paintings” the piano is sizzling with restrained passion. It twists and turns and it rolls trying to escape the confines. The music is beautiful and the echoes are haunting. I feel like I am in that lush Scottish countryside inside the empty walls of a house that reflects my restrictions and obstacles. I feel the loneliness of the music and I understand what the character must be going through. Paul Cantelon masters and controls this sound.

When the music itself is let to run free we get the beautiful “Vorrei comprare del fromagio”. This is one of the rare moments of freedom in the score and I imagine the scene is one of the few where Effie Grey can manifest herself the way she wants. There’s a sense of urgency in this cue as if she was always looking over her shoulder. It carries on into “Gondola” and you can tell that the setting changed from the rigid Scottish countryside to the libertine Venice.

“The white dress” is a game, a constant dance between freedom and restrictions. The music plays with us and simulates doubt, indecision and desire. But even doubts turn into a nice memory when the story returns to Scotland and the appearances get back to meaning everything. There’s an accusing tone in “The dream” and I wonder if it isn’t in fact a nightmare. There’s acceptance in “Scotland”. Or is it resignation I hear? No matter what feeling the composer writes about, the music is beautiful and meaningful. Every note tells me something and none is in excess.

“About her wickedness” gives center stage to the main piano theme that’s been appearing in the background of almost every cue. Nothing else matters but the piano which is pointing the finger at the accused. There’s no light in this cue and the verdict is dire.

You know what you get with “Effie Grey” and you will instantly know whether you like it or not. As I anticipated there were no surprises but the music was as good as it gets for a story like this. The tone, the retrained emotions and the flawless piano and string pieces come together for a piercing listening experience. Paul Cantelon delivered a solid and beautiful score for very precise moods. Not to be listened to as background music because it’s heavy and thought provoking. Oh and there is a little surprise gift at the very end in the sound of a harp…

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 19 / 42

Album excellence: 46%

Highlights:

Prologue

The Paintings

Venice

Vorrei Comprare del Formaggio

Gondola

Effie Decides

About Her Wickedness

Effie

End Credits

About the author

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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