<u>The Duchess</u> – The Score

Working for Jonathan Demme has served Rachel Portman in good stead: she now can be the Emergency Backup Howard Shore. The Duchess gives the initial outward appearance of stuffed-corset melodrama screaming to be scored with nothing but classical pastiche, and Portman’s had plenty experience writing that, but the film has something more modern on its mind that calls for a different musical flavor. Both Portman and Shore can do restrained-by-tradition-and-circumstances emotion, and while Portman’s music for The Duchess never goes to the flat-out weird and disturbing places Shore’s often does – there’s no, Naked Lunch in her career yet – it hints at that darkness impressively. This is a strong score…

The Duchess.jpg

I get the sense (I haven’t seen the movie) that Keira Knightley’s Duchess makes the most of her tradition-restrained position to aid herself in particular and women in general, while making an awkward personal life work better at the same time. Tragedy happens for her – as signaled, for one sad example, by the cue “Rape” (1:50) and regrets happen for her (e.g. the later cues “Bess’ Sons” (1:59), “Gee Gives Up Baby” (1:29) and “Some Things Too Late, Others Too Early” (1:02)). The music hints at the larger fight for equality we still have today; Portman’s score can sound more minimalist and modern because of those implications. You don’t need to be in a corset to deal with a story like that in The Duchess.

The score begins and ends (“The Duchess” (1:38) and “End Titles” (2:08)) with the main theme sounding light and airy and not much hinting at the darkness and difficulty that comes in between. “Mistake of Your Life” (3:22) gets the score surging in another direction, one you figure other characters won’t approve of (but hey, drama often comes from people doing what others think they shouldn’t do, and sometimes those others are right and sometimes they’re wrong). The minimalist-like surging is also a part of “No Mood For Conversation” (0:55); more melody comes back for “Gee and Grey Make Love” (1:54), and the classical-ish main theme reappears in “Gee and Grey Together in Bath” (2:53). “Awakening” (1:20) sounds exactly like what it’s titled. “Six Years Later” (2:29) is hopeful, with that pretty main theme again to reset the scene after the time shift, though one track later (“Some Things Too Late, Others Too Early”) that hope is dialed down. There’s sadness in the two-minute-long “Never See Your Children Again” (sadness? you think?), sadness the next-to-last cues “Grey Comes Back” (1:49) and “Gee Is Taken To The Country” (1:33) don’t banish, though the theme tries to assert itself.

Portman’s music fits in well with two classical snippets on the soundtrack, Beethoven’s “German Dance No. 10 in D Major from ‘Twelve German Dances'” (3:13) and Joseph Haydn’s “Adagio from String Quartet Opus 1 No. 3 in D Major” (5:47). But, of course, the score is more specific about the emotions of the people in this historical drama. Moodier, too, in a lovely-sad way. Nicely done.

If Portman got a collaborator as willing to go to Dark Dramatic Places as Howard Shore has with the Davids (Fincher and Cronenberg), I’d cheer. I’d love to see and hear the result. At the least, she deserves the sorts of assignments Shore couldn’t take when he was neck-deep in the long job of scoring The Lord of the Rings. Hey, won’t he be scoring Guillermo Del Toro’s Hobbit films? Busy again. More chance for Rachel Portman to get to do something different…

About Aaron

Aaron Duran is founder and head writer of GeekintheCity.com, a website devoted to the latest in movies, comics, tabletop games, digital pastimes, and all things Geek. His fascination with comics, film, music, and obscure trivia has transformed into a lifelong pursuit of pop culture knowledge. A precocious writer who started out by spinning elaborate stories based on his favorite sci-fi and adventure franchises, he befuddled his grade-school teachers, who were convinced that no child could write that well at such a young age. When not hard at work on his plans for world domination, Aaron creates highly acclaimed independent films, freelances in many forms of media, explores the minutiae of pop culture, and shares his love of all things Geek with the world through his writing.
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