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Sincere, respectful music is almost unremitting in its misery
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Bristol Bay Productions LLC; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Michael Apted's William Wilberforce biopic Amazing Grace has met with mixed reviews, despite its clearly worthy intentions and the very important subject it covers (the abolition of slavery). Apted's favourite composer of the moment is David Arnold, who would be an extremely unusual choice for a project like this otherwise - he's never scored anything like it, alternating as he does between James Bond's adventures and synth-heavy urban thrillers. It's interesting, therefore, to see whether he's able to pull it off or not.
It's immediately obvious that his music is serious and respectful - a distant choir, thankfully not overused, and string-dominated orchestra introduce the score, before a theme distractingly similar to James Newton Howard's love theme from King Kong is heard. But the score's problem is apparent shortly thereafter - it's all appropriately sombre, but unfortunately to the point of being turgid and downright miserable most of the time. There are brief interludes - usually when a noble theme is heard on piano - which break up the mood of bleakness, but these are few and far between.
Obviously, Arnold was trying extremely hard to avoid moving into being schmaltzy or inappropriate, and this he achieves, but boy it makes for a difficult listen. There are subtle integration of African elements at times (percussion, flutes) but these simply present the misery in a different way, rather than avoiding it. Amistad, it ain't - now there was a score which took all the horrors of slavery and presented them in a rousingly cheerful way which was wonderful for the CD listener (if mystifying for the film viewer).
The score does become a little brighter half way through, starting with the summery, delightful pairing of "The Gardens" and "We Have Hope", gorgeous pieces out of keeping with what's around them, but a great boon to anyone on the verge of sticking his head in the oven. Sadly it is a somewhat temporary reprieve, but it's better than nothing. Amazing Grace is an easy score to admire, but a much harder one to enjoy - it's an unexpected surprise that Arnold manages to score it with such reverence and generally avoid Hollywood sappiness, but it hardly makes for an album that will see the inside of many CDs players with a great deal of regularity.