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  • Composed by Georges Delerue
  • Intrada / 2014 / 79m

A 1987 miniseries, Queenie was based on the fictionalised novel by Michael Korda written about his aunt Merle Oberon, one of the most famous actresses in the world in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and married to the legendary Alexander Korda.  The miniseries follows her from her early life in Calcutta – where her mixed-race origin saw her ostracised both by the Indians and the British – through to Hollywood.  It was a lavish affair typical of the kind of event television of the day, though is not so well known today as some of the others.

Georges Delerue’s music had never been available in any form before Intrada’s 2014 album, so the release was very welcome; and while PR hubris from record labels accompanying new releases is of course not always to be taken at face value, in this case Intrada’s enthusiasm was more than warranted because this is first-rate, vintage Delerue displaying his great qualities in abundance.  There is romance – of course there’s romance! – and no shortage of other feelings, with the composer as ever taking a particularly moving approach to the story’s more tragic elements.

Georges Delerue

Georges Delerue

The album’s overture is an alternate main title cue, a ravishing piece of prime Delerue, sweet and lovely and outrageously beautiful.  Delerue’s gift for writing melodies that could make troubles disappear was not unique amongst the best film composers; but surely he did it more often than any other.  Julie Kirgo’s informative liner notes include a wonderful quote from director Ken Russell: “If you wanted to evoke a beautifully sunny day and it was raining, Georges’s music could bring the sun out.  Not many people can do that.  Only God and Georges Delerue.”  Quite.  The theme’s appearances through the score are always welcome, and come in various guises; the melody is completely transformed in “Walk in the Rain”, the orchestra pared down to chamber size and emotions laid bare. For the “Finale” Delerue pulls out all the stops and it’s just sensational.

The actual main title piece is more evocative of the Indian location with local instrumentation added to the orchestra; the score features tabla and sitar in a move rather unusual for the composer, and while the usual Delerue ingredients are there in droves, the score does contain a flavour thanks to that element that distinguishes it from his other music.  The main theme that runs through the score is manipulated so many ways, but often has a driving quality to it which is quite powerful (never more so than in “Arrival in India”).

The profound sadness of “Burton and Queenie” and “Rape” sees the composer expressing the character’s feelings quite exquisitely, the latter in particular becoming ever more overwhelming.  Even better is the pairing of “Prunella Finds Queenie” and “You’re Going Home”, powerfully moving in their exploration of anguish.  “London Bridge” is a calm piece of rumination, emotions prodding one another out of the way, a masterpiece of tenderness.  The multifaceted score has plenty to offer elsewhere.  Highlights include “Riot”, a strong piece of action; a few expressions of British colonial force in cues like “Queenie to Burton’s”, the English style brass accompanied by Indian percussion; “Driving to David’s” is a gorgeous standalone piece of great pastoral beauty; “She’s My Wife” is a piece of grand emotional sweep; and even the source music is good fun, “Queenie’s Act” numbers 1 and 2 being lovely pieces in the style of the golden age of the dance hall.

This is such a fine album, a lost treasure unearthed, a Delerue score with a grand epic sweep.  The exceptional theme is one thing, but there is so much more to Queenie than just that.  All great composers offer so much of themselves in their music; to know it is to know them.  It is of course harder to do that when writing for film (where countless masters must be served) than for the concert hall but the best film composers always found and continue to find a way.  Delerue’s music overflows with both passion and compassion.  Queenie is not to be missed.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Sunday 10 May, 2015 at 16:21

    “It is of course harder to do that when writing for film (where countless masters must be served) than for the concert hall but the best film composers always found and continue to find a way.”

    I love that sentiment. Somehow I still find myself more drawn to the capsule format of film score than to the long form symphony employed by the classical masters. I’ve studied hundreds of hours of classical music and although I fell in love with the works of Mendelssohn, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky, I can’t say there’s much material in the lot that I’m just dying to listen to again. There are film soundtracks that I know I will listen to for the rest of my life in honor of the impact they had on me.