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Soundtrack review: Victoria & Abdul (Thomas Newman – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Victoria & Abdul (Thomas Newman – 2017)


“Victoria & Abdul” is an upcoming British-American biographical comedy-drama film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Lee Hall. It is based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu, and on the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim. The film stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith (in his last film role), and Adeel Akhtar. I wonder if Judi Dench played M from James Bond more often or a queen. Anyway, the score is written by Thomas Newman.

Thomas Newman has found a new niche in movies that feature an Indian element, after the two Exotic Marigold scores which were very enjoyable. He is one of the more constant and less surprising composers and you almost always know what you get when you listen to a Thomas Newman score, including a very high count of very short cues. 31 for 46 minutes for this album.

Enjoying a score like this one is more often than in other cases a matter of taste; it’s a Thomas Newman score so you know it will be light and melodic and the story takes place in India so if the delightful and light sounds of that place usually make you smile and sway your head and see the world in a more luminous mood then you are safe with this composition. In my case enjoying a Thomas Newman score is also a matter of mood and “Victoria & Abdul” catches me in the right one; it only takes a few minutes for me to get in the groove of the allegro orchestral musings of this composer. I am simply charmed by “Quenelle with Regency Sauce, Etc” with its flutes and soft strings and the infectiously joyful pace. This is just the beginning as this mood is going to be the trademark of this score.

Yet basing my liking of this score on simple mood swings is unfair to Thomas Newman; the more I listen to it the more I find more layers to the usual lightness I was talking about. The composer was particularly inspired when he wrote “Victoria & Abdul” because almost every cue brings more gems than I would have expected; the orchestral work is varied and impecable. There’s a fairy tale harp atmosphere in “Florence”, a subtle elegance in “The wickedness of children” and the most wonderful Celtic longing in “Loch Muick”. All these different elements, all this short and beautiful cues play with each other in a carefully woven mosaic that’s all colour and emotion. Every time the flute is on I just feel the need to close my eyes and just enjoy it. “Glassalt Shiel” for example is a throwback to “The Shawshank Redemption”. The music is just a sparkling celebration of life.

Truth is I’ve been listening to his music for 25 years and I have rarely been as charmed and as happy with a Thomas Newman score as I am now. Every now and then his personal style which he has honed all this time feels even fresher and simply shines. The Indian inserts, the hide and seek with monarchial marches and ceremonial little nuggets, the explosions of joy and light and the quieter emotional moments all make for a wonderfully rich and enjoyable score. Thomas Newman knocks this out of the castle garden with orchestral delight. I liked the musical magic of “Victoria & Abdul” so much that I even want to see a movie I wouldn’t have normally bothered with.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 35 / 46

Album excellence: 76%

Victoria Regina
Quenelle with Regency Sauce, Etc.
The Wickedness of Children
O’sullivan’s March (Trad.)
Loch Muick
Glassalt Shiel
Peacock Throne
All the Riches of the Orient
Knocked for Six
Process Turn Bow Present
The Only Way Is Down
Certified Insane
Banquet Hall of Eternity
The Empress of India
Victoria & Abdul
Munshi Mania
Gain the Ocean (End Title)

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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