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Soundtrack review: Shetland (John Lunn – 2013)


Soundtrack review: Shetland (John Lunn – 2013)


“Shetland” is a British television crime drama television series, made by ITV Studios for the BBC and broadcast on BBC One, that first broadcast on 10 March 2013. Initially based upon the novels of Ann Cleeves, the series was brought to screen by David Kane, who has remained a principal writer through all four series. The series stars Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez, a detective inspector working for Shetland police. The series also stars Alison O’Donnell as Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” Macintosh and Steven Robertson as Detective Constable Sandy Wilson. Mark Bonnar, Lewis Howden, Erin Armstrong, Julie Graham and Anne Kidd are also credited as principal members of the cast. John Lunn wrote the score.

Whenever I get a promo from Silva screen in my inbox I have no worries or doubts about the quality of the music; they have made it their mission these past few years to release and promote scores almost exclusively from British dramas, usually crime or police and there is a special kind of mood the composers create. John Lunn has done a great job on “Downtown Abbey”. Besides he is Scottish and the setting is Scottish so I am expecting some good old Celtic vibes from this score. Naturally I get it from the main theme with that unique bagpipe sound that I love so much; Celtic traditional music, both Irish and Scottish is next to the 80s synth my biggest nostalgia driver. This main theme makes me think of the wonderful sound of The Chieftains.

It’s hard to explain my emotional connection to this sound; I have never visited Ireland or Scotland but somehow through The Chieftains, The Corrs, through Michael Flatley and Loreena McKennitt this sound, this unmistakable longing, the violin, the uillean pipes, the bodhran have become part of me. I digress but the point is to stress why I love so much the cues from “Shetland” that trade suspense for that traditional sound, like “Red bones” or “Up helly aa”. There are not a lot of them but they attracted me the most.

John Lunn creates a mysterious, often tense atmosphere with his music; it almost never gets loud but it often asks questions or quiets down to the point where a piece like “Dead water” borders on ambient music. What sets “Shetland” apart from other British dramas in a way, except the traditional Celtic inserts, is the slow burning, almost melancholic mood, a different shade of sadness,grey mist instead of darkness and a more human approach to the music in a sense that it’s not as elegant as some of the other scores are but sounds more intimate, more personal.

For me the biggest takeaway from “Shetland” was, of course, the Celtic ethic sound. The way John Lunn wove it into the fabric of his score makes this album one I will remember more than others and that I will recognize more easily even without having seen the show. In a world with so many TV shows and scores, little extras like this make the difference. This and a cue like “Life interrupted” which goes straight into my shortlist for cue of the year.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 22 / 40

Album excellence: 55%

Shetland Titles Extended
Red Bones
Up Helly Aa
Gaelic Wedding
Life Interrupted
Goodbye to Fair Isle
Shetland Titles
Shetland End Titles

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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