Film scores

Soundtrack review: River (Harry Escott – 2015)

river

Silva Screen Records continues its wonderful quest to bring all the scores of British TV dramas to wider audiences. I applaud this effort because I enjoy these scores; there have been quite a few this year and almost always I found something to relate to. Not only do I get to hear great music but I also discover new TV shows to watch. This time, the music comes from “River”, is a six-part British television drama series, created and written by Abi Morgan and starring Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker. Detective Inspector John River is haunted by visions of his recently murdered colleague, Detective Sergeant Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson. He continues in his attempts to find her killer although excluded from the case on the grounds of his proximity to the events surrounding it. Harry Escott wrote the score.

The music is quiet and minimalistic, as is the trend these days. The first couple of cues pass in a generic electronic vibe but I stop at “Hippopotamus teeth”. Suddenly the music means something, suddenly it makes sense and I find myself in a 90 seconds long world populated with sounds similar to the wonderfully simple and lovable ones Rob Simonsen thrives on. And if a score takes me there even for a few moments, it’s a winner.

The trouble is that I will look for more similar moments and if I won’t find them I will be disappointed. The composer tries to sway me with a string based cue like “So grateful” and it works. I enjoy this piece and the mood it sets. I know that this is a score to be enjoyed in the moment and not something I will come back to. Then again, it was written for a limited event and this is the reaction it’s supposed to give.

Then comes a minimalistic gem like “The eye of cockatrice” which is the kind of cue I will always hold dear. It’s quiet and dreamy before the contained emotion builds up and hits the door that holds it in with a thud. The cello cries and this is one piece I will remember. From this moment the score sounds different to me and I can connect better with it. The melodies touch me and the minimalistic sounds strike familiar chords inside me. “Litany of bananas” has its special place for me.

With the Gustavo Santaolalla like acoustic strings in some cues the score also hits a sweet spot. The composer doesn’t abuse them, he uses them just enough to bring me some nostalgia. Bruno is probably the most action oriented cue from this score but it doesn’t leave the musical confines of the quiet “River”.

Even if it took a few cues to find its footing, “River” ends up as another hit for British TV. It doesn’t pretend to be more than it is and the mood it sets it’s clear and very enjoyable to me. If you like melodic minimalism you will enjoy this one.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 17 / 33

Album excellence: 51%

Highlights:

Hippopotamus teeth

The eye of cockatrice

Litany of bananas

Go to your husband

And you say

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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