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  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Decca / 2013 / 52m

In Philomena, based on a true story, Judi Dench (or JUDI DENCH, as Billy Connolly calls her) plays an Irish woman who travels to America to seek the son who was taken away from her and sold by nuns in the 1950s.  The film has attracted much admiration, not least for the performances by Dench and Steve Coogan, who plays the journalist who accompanies her; and for Coogan’s screenplay.  This is the fourth collaboration between director Stephen Frears and composer Alexandre Desplat, for whom their first film together (The Queen) was something of a springboard for the incredibly successful career that has followed.  You generally know what you’re going to get from Desplat: a pretty classy gloss to shine over the film.  Philomena is no exception – this is music with a whimsical air, a clever nostalgic charm thanks to its chimes and piano that forever seem to be leading the listener towards a welcoming place.  No Hollywood schmaltz here – it’s hard to imagine Desplat doing schmaltz – it’s all blessed with a wonderful touch of class.  There’s real feeling, too – an emotional underbelly to the music that cleverly develops over the course of the score.

There is another side to the “You know what you’re going to get with Desplat” coin, though.  I’ve been one of his most enthusiastic champions over the years (in terms of that hugely important group, online film music critics) – but while he is I think the most talented film composer to have emerged since Thomas Newman 25 years or so ago, there is sometimes a sense of inevitability about his music – his exceptionally distinctive sound can sometimes lead to new music that you think you’ve heard before.  Philomena is one of those – the melodies are new, but it still sounds so familiar.  Newman has a similarly distinctive sound and has scored considerably more films, but I can’t say I’ve ever had the same issue with him, so there’s something there.  Fortunately there’s plenty to the score to enjoy – the lovely main theme, the genuine warmth of “Drives to Roscrea” and “Landing in USA”, the stabs of uncertainty that are worked brilliantly into “Confession” – it does make for a really nice album, just not one that’s really able to stand out amongst Desplat’s very strong body of work.

Rating: *** | |

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  1. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 16 January, 2014 at 22:01

    “the most talented film composer to have emerged since Thomas Newman”

    As a big fan of John Powell, and Michael Giacchino and Marco Beltrami and David Arnold, but Powell in particular – and despite all of the respect I have for Desplat – I’m afraid you leave me no choice but to take issue with that statement… >:D

  2. Conor007 (Reply) on Saturday 18 January, 2014 at 15:20

    Did anyone else smell Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close during Philomena’s main theme? It’s almost an exact copy. In saying that, I’ll forgive Desplat because it’s a great piece of film music to begin with.

  3. Shaun (Reply) on Friday 19 September, 2014 at 21:38

    Did you see the film before writing this review? I thought the album was kind of a Streisand on the CD, but after hearing it with the film, it’s subtly brilliant. The carousel theme in particular means so much more once you hear why it’s used. The theme haunts her throughout the film, and for good (sad) reason. Adds so much to Dench’s already fantastic performance. As usual with Desplat, he totally turned me around on a score I thought was a snooze by watching the film the music was written for. Tremendous work.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 21 September, 2014 at 19:57

      No, but I’ve seen it now and think the score is nothing short of brilliant in it.

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Sunday 19 October, 2014 at 22:39

    “Newman has a similarly distinctive sound and has scored considerably more films, but I can’t say I’ve ever had the same issue with him, so there’s something there.”

    This is an interesting sentence to revisit considering your recent review of The Judge. 😉