Film scores

Soundtrack review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Benoit Charest and Benoit Groulx – 2015)

JonathanStrange+MrNorrell

“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell” is a seven-part miniseries adapted from Susanna Clarke’s bestselling novel. 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. However, scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains — the reclusive and skillful Mr Norrell. His displays of magic soon thrill the nation. In London, he raises the beautiful Lady Pole from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Soon another magician emerges and a dangerous battle between the two ensues. I can’t rush fast enough to see this, where do I sign up? I remember Christopher Nolan’s movie “The prestige” and how much it impressed me. This seems like a similar story and I am sold. Now the score was compose by a pair which could make you think of a magician duo: Benoit Charest and Benoit Groulx. The two amazing Benoits. One of them has an Oscar nomination while the other one produced music for Cirque du Soleil and orchestrated for Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie Smith. Thant’s enough for me.

I warm up to their music quite fast. The second cue “The magic lab” is intriguing and melodic and I like the mood swings it presents. It’s a short and sweet rollercoaster of emotions and orchestral music. If the whole score is like that I will be happy. After that I can only notice that it is fun in its opening cues. I listen to “Intro of Vinculus” and I imagine someone tiptoeing and trying to play hide and seek. So far “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell” gives me superficial feelings; it still stays at the door.

The music gets lively with “Horse sands” and so do I. This is an adventure cue which makes me feel like a kid wondering at something that looks out of this world in his eyes. But the momentum isn’t kept. The score stays faithful to the on screen images I imagine, as it plays lightly and amusing, just like the opening of a magic trick. I am not drawn to that. I am waiting for the dramatic moments, for the “wow” factor. If this score wants to play like an awesome magic trick, it should own up to that. “Magic in the cathedral” gets close to my wishes as it finally explodes with an epic final section. Now that’s more like it! This is what I came for.

And the momentum is kept. Seems that from that moment the score changed gear and things got a little deeper, a little more serious. The music has a wider range now. If until now it stayed quite linear the score simply takes off in a wonderful flurry of emotions and ideas. Even the waltz from this section sounds better and more appealing that the ones from the beginning. Then the haunting strings that end “Arabella’s death suite”… the addictive seriousness of “Sir Pole in Parliament”… memorable moments one after the other. If I manage to look at it from a broader perspective I am starting to see a pattern, the evolution of the music of “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell”, the descent from light to serious.

For me, the score takes off and never looks back. It just powers on with orchestral delights, bursts of passion and bouts of deep darkness. It’s as if from one moment on the true meaning of this score was revealed to me and I wasn’t just a surprised spectator but actually involved behind the scenes. “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell” is one of the nicest surprises of the year. It’s dense, varied and challenging. It tells a story in its own and I don’t even need the movie anymore. Do not miss this one. You will become addicted to the music of the two Benoits, like I did.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 28 / 57

Album excellence: 49%

Highlights:

Horse Sands

Magic In The Cathedral

Norrell Summoning Gent

The Gent Calling Black

Strange Waltz

Arabella’s Death Suite

Sir Pole In Parliement

Vinculus Fortune

This Stew Is Excellent

Magic Spell

The Waltz

Strange Leaving With Books

Norrell’s Destiny

Jonathan’s Strange Theme

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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