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Soundtrack review: Britannia (Neil Davidge – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Britannia (Neil Davidge – 2018)

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“Britannia” is a British historical period drama written by Jez Butterworth. The nine-part series is the first co-production between Sky and Amazon Prime Video, and stars Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker, Liana Cornell and Stanley Weber. Set in AD 43, the series follows ancient Rome’s conquest of the Celts in the British Isles — “a mysterious land ruled by wild warrior women and powerful druids who can channel the powerful forces of the underworld.” Celtic rivals Kerra and Antedia must work together to fight off the Roman invasion led by Aulus Plautius. I will try to get over my personal dislike of David Morrissey and watch this show because it sounds like a Vikings / Game of thrones type thing. Neil Davidge wrote the score.

Neil Davidge basically is Massive Attack and that is enough for me to get super excited about this score. Besides, the track record of musicians from favourite bands of mine like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Fatih no More, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and so on taking on film music has been fantastic. Also the scores for these types of violent historical shows usually are remarkable. “Britannia” opens with “Make amends”, a cue that comes from the colder side of electronic music in the beginning before building up into an epic theme that does the story justice. I have noticed that a lot of scores for stories set 1000 or more years ago have a certain common thread in the sound; the quiet, stringy, mystic sound that often makes me think of barren forests in the misty winter with various creatures or spirits or enemies hiding in the fog or behind the trees; I get these thoughts as I listen to “The sun will not rise tomorrow” which is mysterious and menacing in the same time.

The range of this score continues to expand with the warm and melodic “You spoke” the first emotional cue from “Britannia”. The violin motif is charming and the reflective tone of the track calms me down and make me wish for more music like it. I would like for the action moments to be just as clear and affecting but the composer went for an overall ominous atmosphere, a generic atmosphere without peaks or bursts of epic and energy; I prefer a score that when it’s time to blow up gives me a goosebumps worthy track but “Britannia” frowns somewhere in the middle, never angry enough to make me believe. All this tension and mystery needs to build up to something for this score to be an even more enjoyable standalone listening experience but safe from some rock influenced motifs like in “Hope” it lacks that extra spark to make it work better outside the context of the TV show. “Where is Islene” is one of the few cues that gives me that.

I enjoy much more the reflective ambient tracks as they are more believable and complete. When “Britannia” goes melodic I am a happy listener. I am surprised to find one of my favourite quiet motifs at the beginning of a cue named “The Romans attack”; it goes industrial once the mayhem starts but it’s still one of the cues I will return to from this score. There is also a massive 10 minutes long cue “The sacrifice of Pellenor” which, title and all, sounds as if taken from “Lord of the rings” but except the length it doesn’t stray away from the general sound of the score.

From my experience a textural score like “Britannia” is the kind that completes the on screen images perfectly and works much better in the context of the TV show than as standalone music.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 56

Album excellence: 25%

Highlights:
You Spoke
The Romans Attack
Why The Fuck Am I Here
The Prophecy

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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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