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Soundtrack review: The witness for the prosecution (Paul Englishby – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: The witness for the prosecution (Paul Englishby – 2017)

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“The witness for the prosecution” is a 2016 British miniseries set in 1920s London. A brutal and bloodthirsty murder has stained the plush carpets of a handsome London townhouse. The victim is the glamorous and rich Emily French. All the evidence points to Leonard Vole, a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life. At least, this is the story that Emily’s dedicated housekeeper Janet McIntyre stands by in court. Leonard however, is adamant that his partner, the enigmatic chorus girl Romaine, can prove his innocence. Tasked with representing Leonard is his solicitor John Mayhew and King’s Counsel, Sir Charles Carter KC. The score was written by Paul Englishby and I’m always excited to hear his music after the excellent “Musketeers” and, specially, “Luther” scores.

The opening cue is truly one to mark a gripping British drama; “Opening” is borderline horror when in begins and then it drips velvety piano darkness. I already feel the shroud of mystery around me and I want to know more, I am hooked right from the start. “Backstage” gets even more tense as the string instruments grind away at an invisible wall. The orchestra sounds as if it’s trying to muster up the courage to play; it is a strange and fascinating sensation.

“Murder” is almost Lynchian in how dark and gravely it sounds; I get the same feeling of an impenetrable darkness where the music is absorbed and spitted out as broken glass. I can hear the unique sound of a record player needle making contact with the record without playing any music.

The piano brings the light and the melody even if sadness never leaves this score. The string instruments always leave a long shadow behind them as if the sound guy away from the soloist and turned into a permanent echo. The music never gets loud and remains elegant no matter what instruments play. I could almost say the score is minimalistic as Paul Englishby never crowds his cues.

There’s a romantic theme hidden in this suspenseful texture; I hear it in “He’s all I’m thinking about” and “He didn’t come back”; this quiet piano motif is the warm center of the score. It fits very naturally in the fabric and makes “The witness for the prosecution” feel like a story rather then separate cues put together.The music is thick and dense; the atmosphere is heavy and uncomfortable as the orchestral motifs blend with moments when the music just dissolves into white noise. “Hang” is a fascinating cue that plays like a dream or hallucination with the broken piano motif that comes at the end out of nowhere.

What Paul Englishby also does very well in this score is to keep the listener guessing; there is no filler music and every time a break in the story is required, he fills it with a rolling string motif. Just like the best of mystery stories the music also brings instrumental twists at the end of many cues, usually in the form of a sudden piano revelation. Other times a haunting female voice can be heard, like a ghost (in “Truth” for example). All these elements hiding in the shadows make for an exceptional composition. I love the hide and seek between the serious strings and the piano, I love the real horror, it makes me think of my favourite Fernando Velazquez scores.

I knew Paul Englishby could write dark and affecting music, that was clear for me from his “Luther” scores; he takes it one step further with “The witness for the prosecution” because he makes sure the string instruments are always twisted and angry; he makes his music lurk and scratch, he turns his motifs into rusty nails or warm blankets and he never turns on the light in this score. There’s suspense, there’s fear, there’s mystery and a bit of romance to make it all matter in a gripping composition that only makes me want to hear more.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 35 / 55

Album excellence: 63%

Highlights:
Opening
Backstage
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Memory of Their Son
Describe the Evening
He’s All I’m Thinking About
He Didn’t Come Back
To Court
Who’s There
You Came Home
Truth
Revenge
Mimi
Guilty
Hail Mary
Revealed
For You
The End

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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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