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Soundtrack review: The handmaid’s tale (Adam Taylor – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: The handmaid’s tale (Adam Taylor – 2017)

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Adapted from the classic novel by Margaret Atwood, THE HANDMAID’S TALE is the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly the United States. Facing environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate, Gilead is ruled by a twisted fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state. As one of the few remaining fertile women, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid in the Commander’s household, one of the caste of women forced into sexual servitude as a last desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world. In this terrifying society where one wrong word could end her life Offred navigates between Commanders, their cruel Wives, domestic Marthas and her fellow Handmaids – where anyone could be a spy for Gilead – with one goal: to survive and find the daughter that was taken from her. The music was written by Adam Taylor.

The old voiceover or no voiceover in a score debate, and I don’t mean general but for me; this score opens with “Escape within” where Elisabeth Moss as the main character is talking about her in what I imagine is the opening of the show and as long as it’s something like this with a sombre cello undertone, it works as it puts me faster in the mood of the story. The cold and frightening dystopian setting of the story his me right away in “Chased” which is a dense and opaque industrial cue that build up like a powerful enemy from which there’s no escape. This dark, whirring texture is central to the score and makes me think of a hopeless world; I welcome warmer motifs like the cello in what I imagine is the love theme “Ofglen and Offred”. Her themes are always warmer and with a glimmer of hope.

A cue like “He wants to see you” which is almost like a twisted dark tango is the kind of piece that raises my flags about a composer I should watch for because it’s experiments like these that make for a rewarding listening experience. The tango dissolves into a deafening noisy motif. There’s a subtle tonal difference between the cues that depict the external world and the ones where Offred is involved; I notice it in the almost elegiac and desperate mood of “Offred explores her room” which is still minimalistic and reflective and ends up as one of my favourite pieces from the score. In this overall dark atmosphere a cue like “Their first time”, a tender and melodic piano composition, instantly gets me teary eyed as I didn’t think I could find something this beautiful in a score of desperation; this only goes to show how good Adam Taylor is at making his music count no matter the tone. He makes me feel the weight of the society depicted here, the heartbreak of love with powerful cello solos while rarely getting loud. The score is an ode to loneliness and I feel its every note. Even the cue titles speak of loss: “Felt like love”, “They were once madly in love”.

“The handmaid’s tale” is a poignant composition from a composer I wasn’t familiar with until now; the score is short but the standalone listening experience is meaningful and affecting with its elegiac, melancholic and sad themes. I hope there will one day be more musical available from this show.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 29 / 37

Album excellence: 79%

Highlights:
Chased
Ofglen and Offred
He Wants To See You
The Smell of Caves (feat. Elisabeth Moss)
Nick and Offred
Offred Explores Her Room
Their First Time
Felt Like Love
They Were Once Madly in Love
Promenade of Stolen Children
Forbidden Love
He’s Alive

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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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