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Soundtrack review: Hanover Street (John Barry – 1979)

Composer of the month John Barry month

Soundtrack review: Hanover Street (John Barry – 1979)


I guess few stories were as fit for John Barry’s music as the one in “Hanover Street”. A moving love story set over the background of World War II, “Hanover Street” had all the emotion and drama which make Barry’s music so special. I imagined he jumped at the opportunity to write music for a romance such as this one. He could score the action sequences in a blink with his James Bond experience and the complicated love triangle between Harrison Ford (in his most unusual pilot incarnation), Lesley Ann Down and Christopher Plummer provided him with the twists and turns he needed to guide his orchestra. I know the movie well; I watched it a few times with my parents.

The main theme is vintage John Barry and a perfect advertisement for sweepingly beautiful movie love themes. The theme is warm, sensitive and has that dash of quiet sadness which immediately makes me think of a forbidden love. It also hides the kind of hope that immediately sent me to my favorite war movie love story score, Hans Zimmer’s “Pearl Harbour”. This main theme which trickles through most of the score also matches the ice cold beauty and elegance of Lesley Ann Down. Just like the main character, the music knows its restrictions and you know from the opening notes that this love story isn’t fiery and stormy. Even the brass instruments are toned down and blown into gently.

The variations in this score don’t come from the thematic material but rather from the different instrumentations. “Trying to forget” for example blesses the main theme with a solo violin which makes it sound even quieter and more personal. John Barry has such a unique sound for me that it’s even hard sometimes to find different things to say about his works. I like his distinctive stamp so I don’t care that it follows roads taken many times before.

Even the action pieces from “Hanover Street” have the same gravity and slow burning rhythm the composer has made famous. The music is never rushed or sudden, you have time to prepare for all the moments. John Barry never hurries. His orchestra is trapped in a permanent and steady flow which nothing can disrupt. His music has the effect of watching a brook flow. You can do that for hours and very little will change but still it will relax and charm you. You know what you get when you listen to John Barry.

Above all, even if the love story in “Hanover Street” involves three persons, the music sounds very lonely and intimate. Everything that goes on in this score is contained and kept as much inside as possible. Many cues feel like monologues while the compositions that tell us about scenes between two or more characters make me feel as if nobody else will find out about them. The curtain call comes naturally and discreetly and “Hanover Street” takes one more elegant bow and splits wordless from us. Just as that poignant end scene of the movie with Lesley Ann Down heading towards the hospital room where her husband laid and Harrison Ford heading in the opposite direction, back out in Hanover Street, we part ways with John Barry’s composition with regret but a little richer than before we met.

Cue rating: 85 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 35 / 78

Album excellence: 44


Main Title

The Bombing

On Hanover Street

Trying To Forget

Message From Paul

Bail Out Over France

A Resouceful Man



Finale (revised)



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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