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Soundtrack review: Marcella (Lorne Balfe – 2016)

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Soundtrack review: Marcella (Lorne Balfe – 2016)

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Set in contemporary London and starring Anna Friel, Marcella – from internationally renowned screenwriter and novelist Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge) – centers on the psychological struggles of a Metropolitan police officer at a crisis point in her personal life, driven by rejection and intuition. Returning to the Met’s Murder Squad after a 12-year career break, Marcella is a detective in her late 30’s who gave up her fast-tracked role to marry and devote her life to starting a family. With the abrupt end to her marriage to the love of her life and isolated from her children at boarding school, Marcella returns to work – her sense of self shattered. She is immediately assigned to one of her old cases that she first worked on in 2003. A spate of recent killings has occurred, all carrying the same hallmarks as those unsolved murders committed over a decade ago. Lorne Balfe wrote the score.

I remember when the show first came out a couple of years ago I listened to a short composer promo of this score and enjoyed it. It’s time to listen to the real deal now and the opening cue “a bloody bath” reminds me that this British TV show sounded like no other as Lorne decided to experiment with various types of sound effects. This cue for instance is not really music, it’s not melodic, it’s a tense, industrial texture that will be uncomfortable for many to listen to. The British drama sound comes alive in “Awaken and broken” and I swear that haunting highland like string motif is part of Lorne’s Scottish heritage. Celtic longing, Celtic nostalgia in music, be it Scottish of Irish is my favourite sound next to the 80s synth so I am happy with this cue.

That cue is only an exception as Lorne goes the frantic, pulsating way for his texture. At times when the dissonant piano plays like in “Disoriented” I wonder when is Jigsaw going to appear as the atmosphere gets close to those industrial basements and storage rooms where most of the “Saw” franchise takes place. I like musical experiments, I like uncomfortable and tense motifs so I am enjoying the process of discovering this score. Lorne Balfe writes a clear distinction between the plot, investigative moments and the personal moments of the main character which are warmer and more melodic. The overall tone of the score stays dark no matter what happens.

“Marcella” is not a score for everyone; the manic, flickering moments can turn off listeners who are in it for melodies or coherent motifs. For them the composer made sure that the main character and her personal tribulations are also present enough in the score. Overall this is a complex composition that gives the show a special musical identity which separates it from the other, more elegant British dramas on TV right now. But what the music tells is that this particular show and its main character are nothing like the others. “Marcella” is definitely the kind of score that works best in the context of the movie and it’s an acquired taste as a standalone listen.

Cue rating: 78 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 18 / 63

Album excellence: 28%

Highlights:
Awake and Broken
Disoriented
Calm Down, Marcella
In Her Head
Look at Me
Familiar Scar

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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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