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Soundtrack review: Darkest hour (Dario Marianelli – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Darkest hour (Dario Marianelli – 2017)



“Darkest Hour” is a 2017 British war drama film directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten. The film stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, and follows his early days as Prime Minister as Hitler closes in on Britain in World War II (The Darkest Hour). Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, and Ronald Pickup also star. During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds. Dario Marianelly, Joe Wright’s favourite composer, wrote the score. Who can ever forget their collaboration for “Pride & Prejudice”.

Marianelli has been hit and miss with me over the years but whenever he’s in his best piano zone he can do no wrong; the “Prelude” of this score is a sombre and vibrant solo piano improvisation that rises to the occasion of this story. I just love it when a composer uses just the piano, the rolling, stormy piano to evoke moments of great distress and effervescent thinking and decision making as Marianelli does in the first part of this score; I think my preference for this dates back to James Horner’s “Bicentennial man” and “A beautiful mind” and I have never looked back. A cue like “Where is Winston” hits the spot and I feel engaged, inspired, ready for action.

One thing I love about Dario Marianelli is that he is among the few composers left who go all orchestral on their score, old school. He is Italian after all so romance and beauty is in his blood; it’s refreshing and so enjoyable to hear the flute section flinching and the string section trembling in the more textural cues of this score. The composer keeps it simple as he doesn’t employ a full orchestra and this makes the music warm and spacious. Naturally the piano takes the centre stage and there are moments when it’s just the piano and it’s just sublime. Even a short insert like “One of them” has a big emotional impact for me. Then the piano gets loud and stormy and it’s just as good.

“Winston and George” is a cue that best represents both this score and Dario Marianelli’s best work; it’s simply a beautiful and playful waltz in which all the instruments quietly dance with each other. The brass section, the piano motifs so joyful and lively that they make me think of my favourite old classical music compositions, the string section building up, the magnificent flute, they all come together in what must be one of the best cues I have heard in 2017. I am sure my words come short in describing how beautiful this piece is so you need to listen to it for yourselves; trust me, it will be worth it.

“Darkest hour” is Dario Marianelli at his finest; with the right balance between the political / military sound and the emotional palette he gave this story the proper depth. As always I am delighted to hear such an elegant fully orchestral score and I can’t wait to hear it in context as well. The final cue “We shall fight” alone is worth the price of the album.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 28 / 52

Album excellence: 54%

Where Is Winston?
A Telegram From the Palace
One of Them
Winston and George
The War Rooms
Just Before the Dawn
District Line, East, One Stop
We Shall Fight

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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