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Soundtrack review: Churchill (Lorne Balfe – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Churchill (Lorne Balfe – 2017)

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“Churchill” is a 2017 British historical war drama film directed by Jonathan Teplitzky about the actions of Winston Churchill in the hours leading up to D-Day. The film stars Brian Cox as the titular character with Miranda Richardson and John Slattery in supporting roles. Exhausted by years of war, Winston Churchill awaits the D-Day Normandy landings.

Lorne Balfe wrote the score and Lorne has become sort of like the stem cell equivalent of film music: no matter what project needs him, be it drama, sci-fi, animation, biographical, documentary or whatever, he metamorphoses into the right composer for the project and delivers the score the respective story needs. In the past three years he’s done literally everything and he always delivered a score that I personally loved. He is a chameleon and a great composer with a wide range and an exciting imagination. This year biography seems to be the name of the game as he’s also scored the TV series “Genius” about Albert Einstein.

The opening of the score “The beach” is straight down elegiac with the voice chant at the beginning. It’s almost hard for me to explain how in tune I always am with Lorne’s music; the way this opening cue develops with a whisper of Celtic music over a motif that makes me think of “Braveheart” of all scores settles inside me like an old friend I recognise instantly. The mood of the cue is serious, dark and broad, making way for a hero to come in and take his place. Yes I am not afraid to write that “The beach” is “Braveheart” level material and it also opens a lot of possibilities for this score.

It’s not just that I am writing this review on a dark and rainy day; it’s that with every score Lorne’s music gets more and more mature, more and more compelling and a piano theme like “Meeting with Month” somehow adds the historic element this story has to the music. The violin wailing in the background at it’s own heartbreaking pace while brings yet another layer to an already complex cue.

The movie is about a weary man passing the final hours before the Normandy landings and the music brings both the frantic weight of those historic moments with a heavy string section that goes at a relentless pace and the quiet restraint of the waiting hours, far away from the action. It’s all in the contrast between the exciting “An unsociable hour” and the emotional and quieter “Eisenhower will listen”; when the solo piano quietly and poignantly takes over the latter cue I can almost sense the feelings of one man’s conviction and worry. I love the piano, it’s my favourite instrument to hear in a score because it can convey so many different emotions depending on how its keys are touched and every time I hear it on “Churchill” I know it’s a scene that’s personal and intimate to the main character.

“Meeting with the king” is one of the most touching cues Lorne Balfe has written. Once again the solo piano silences everything and turns down the light to make the atmosphere more sombre, more intimate, stripped of everything that is not emotion. This cue is at the blurry edge between orchestral and minimalistic as the piano evokes an endless lake on a cloudy day, a day when all I can hear are the beatings of my heart, a peaceful image that invites to reflection like only the piano can; one of my favourite cues of 2017 and I just had to listen to it again. This reflective atmosphere blends into “Let it rain” and returns poignantly in “A cottage by the sea” and I just can’t get enough of this beautiful music.

A grave and beautiful score, sometimes quiet, sometimes elegiac, “Churchill” proves once again that Lorne Balfe can write the right score for any story or genre. You wouldn’t recognise in this one the man who composed “Penguins of Madagascar” or “Terminator: Genisys” but you will enjoy its subtleties just as much. I would call this a minimalistic score (the closing cue “Purpose” could find its place on a Brian Eno album) because so many of the cues and especially the piano moments are so wonderfully lonely. The music helps us get a glimpse of what it felt like to be Winston Churchill on that day: lonely and with the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 41 / 49

Album excellence: 85%

Highlights:
The Beach
Meeting with Month
Eisenhower Will Listen
Back to London
Meeting with the King
Let It Rain
We Could All Help
A Cottage by the Sea
The Speech
Recovery
Purpose

 

 

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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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