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Secret Sharer
  • Composed by Guy Farley
  • Caldera Records / 2014 / 59m

A contemporary telling of a 1909 short story by Joseph Conrad, Secret Sharer is a romantic drama set in the South China Sea.  A Polish ship captain’s Chinese crew desert him, leaving him alone on the moored vessel, when he discovers a naked Chinese girl on board, confused and distressed; shortly afterwards, the authorities arrive, investigating a murder.  The film marks the directorial début of Peter Fudakowski and is due for release later in 2014; unusually, the soundtrack album has been released several months before.

It is the first release on a new label devoted to film scores, Caldera Records.  The music is composed by the talented Guy Farley, prolific in British cinema for 15 years now.  His score has what I might call “eastern touches” but by and large is traditionally western, orchestral film music, focusing more frequently on the ship’s captain’s ethnicity than the film’s setting, which for the most part is represented very subtly.  Indeed, the score’s main theme is based on a Polish folk song; its arrangement at the start of the album, for accordion and orchestra, is gorgeous.

Guy Farley

Guy Farley

“My Own Ship” has a lovely lighthearted air, continuing the album’s very strong start.  “Sudden Promotion” is more melancholy, slightly darker, with a hint of nervousness and – in film music terms – a hint of latter-day John Barry (Barry himself scored an adaptation of a Conrad short story, Amy Foster – filmed as Swept from the Sea – one of his final film scores).  Farley conjures a compelling atmosphere befitting a murder mystery in the piece, following it with a slightly smokey trumpet arrangement of the main theme in “Gulf of Thailand” which leads into another lovely version for strings.

My favourite of the score’s themes is introduced at in “In a Neat Pile”, a piano line tantalisingly hinting at the melody during the first half of the piece before it is revealed in its gorgeous entirety.  It bugged me for a while as I tried to work out what it reminded me of – I finally realised it is the self-contained piece “Old Family Souvenirs” in Ennio Morricone’s score for Oliver Stone’s U-Turn.  I’m sure it has to be one of those weird coincidences, but it’s disarmingly similar (another possibility is that it’s another folk tune, used by both composers).  In any case, it’s a wonderful piece of music, full of yearning and absolutely full of beauty.  It is hinted at again in the immediately subsequent “At Sea”, a much darker piece.  Tragedy appears in “The Girl”, almost mournful in tone but with a kind of exotic beauty; the tension is resolved to an extent in “Come to Life”, the piano theme returning and so too the John Barry feeling.

With that thematic material – and no shortage of beauty amongst it – established during the first half, in the second, Farley must explore much darker areas.  “What Will You Do?” must be a difficult question to answer, with the music suggesting a great deal of internal conflict.  The brief “The Necklace” again has an air of an old-fashioned whodunnit before the real turning point arrives in “A Fight”, featuring the most overt burst of oriental colour up to that point (thanks to the array of percussion and a shakuhachi) and also the first action music.  It feels like a pretty abrupt turn of pace and change of style to me, but I guess the composer can only do what the film needs and perhaps there just wasn’t the chance to build up to it more gradually.

The “In a Neat Pile” theme returns, for winds this time, in “Man Overboard”, perhaps the score’s standout track.  On a dramatic level there seems to be so much going on; but most importantly for the album listener, on a musical level, it’s just so beautiful.  There is a distinctly romantic feel in the next piece, “Few Want to Love”, in which the main theme returns again; Farley then skilfully hints at both main themes in “Horizons”, and now the atmosphere is more of a forbidden love.  The second “action” piece, “Dangerous Waters”, feels more organically part of the whole, ebbing and flowing like the tide before crashing like a mighty wave later on.  As the score draws to a close, there is time for further reprises of the main themes (“Short Like Yours” another gorgeous piano rendition of the “In a Neat Pile” theme, the end titles piece the Polish folk tune) which sandwich the choppy, dramatic “Small Islands” and brief but lovely “Xiamen”.

After Secret Sharer, the album features a 13-minute suite from Farley’s unused score to Tsotsi; that film was produced by this film’s director and he commissioned Farley to score it with the intention of replacing the original score that had been written for the movie, but after it was tested with the first score and played well with audiences, he wasn’t able to get his preferred score put in place.  If Secret Sharer‘s ethnic moments are rather subtle then Tsotsi‘s are far more overt, with the percussion and vocals making for a lively evocation of contemporary South Africa.  It’s pretty dark music in the main but dramatically compelling and highly listenable, with some moments of beauty and passion, particularly the outstanding pair of cues that conclude the suite, “Hills” and “Mother to a Child”, which are really rather moving.  The album ends with another nice touch, a four-minute interview with the composer in which he talks about his experience on Secret Sharer, an impressive score full of nice touches that are revealed more and more on repeated listens.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Monday 24 February, 2014 at 18:39

    Neat! I had no idea about Tsotsi; did you ever hear the released score by Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker?

  2. Mikal (Reply) on Tuesday 25 February, 2014 at 06:03

    My God, this man looks like the lovechild of James Horner and Nathan Fillion…

  3. Marco (Reply) on Sunday 7 April, 2024 at 16:53

    I’ve just started listening to it. Is it orchestrated by the composter himself?
    Thanks for your review.