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ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
Very modern sound for historical tale brings entertaining results
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth was a very entertaining revisionist historical romp with Cate Blanchett in fine form as one of the most famous of Britain's royals - it wasn't particularly designed to be taken seriously (as the stunt casting of some roles proved) and was very entertaining. Kapur takes things even further in the "sequel", Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and it has tried the patience of some, but the subject matter (largely the "Spanish problem") is compelling and it's still a great deal of fun.
The Australian composer David Hirschfelder provided the first film with a fine score which was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, though it did attract some criticism not just in the film score community but even in the mainstream press for its anachronistic pillaging of Elgar for the 16th century tale (it worked so well dramatically, it didn't bother me in the slightest); that mainstream press has been strangely quiet on one of the key sources of inspiration for this new score, one which is even more anachronistic - but more on that later.
The music is by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman, an odd pairing of two completely different composers, but while their score does come off as something of a patchwork quilt at times, it works surprisingly well. It opens strongly with the dynamic violin solo ushering in the score, and the stylised nature of the recording pretty much sets the tone of what's to come - Armstrong can be a very showy composer at times, and this is one of his completely unrestrained, some might say rather garish efforts. It's colourful, for sure - perhaps overwhelmingly so at times.
Everything is more than competent, and even during the worst of the grandstanding, it has a certain appeal, and it's nice to hear a score for this sort of thing which isn't completely bland (not an entirely regular occurrence these days). But it is completely modern music - and that source of inspiration I mentioned earlier is Hans Zimmer - not quite Elgar, but I suppose more inevitable these days. At times Armstrong (one presumes Rahman was largely responsible for the Indian-sounding music!) creates the same kind of slightly overwhelming "this is IMPORTANT, dammit!" sound that Zimmer did in The Da Vinci Code; and when the modern drums and synths join in with the action music, you're waiting for Nicolas Cage to climb out of a burning building having shot the bad guys and got the girl. For sure, it's a score with style and a very bold personality, but it's not entirely convincing as music for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Much like with Da Vinci Code, in fact, if you can get over the slight bewilderment that this music is in this film, the album has quite a lot to offer - there's none of the elegant classicism of Hirschfelder's score, but as a modern action/adventure score it really isn't bad at all. Armstrong tends to veer between writing the most excessive, outlandish music and writing bland nothingness, with little in between, and this score is right at the former extreme - as such I'm sure it will appeal to those fans of the curiously-labelled "crossover" style, and will probably attract a lot more mainstream attention than your typical film score album; and it's enjoyable enough on its own merits to warrant a recommendation.