Top positive review
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on March 17, 2011
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë's timeless tale of love, madness and female empowerment, has been brought to life several times on the big screen, and inspired some excellent scores, most notably by Bernard Herrmann and John Williams. This new film, directed by Cary Fukunaga, stars Mia Wasikowska as the eponymous heroine, who was mistreated and downtrodden as a young girl in 17th century England, but eventually grows up to be the governess of a young girl at the rambling, imposing Thornfield Hall. Jane falls in love with the dashing master of the house, Rochester (Michael Fassbender), but as her relationship with the raffish gentleman develops, increasingly strange things begin to happen during the night in the dark and dusty corridors of Thornfield, testing Jane's nerve, and her sanity. The film also stars Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins and Judi Dench, and features a sumptuous, utterly beautiful score by Dario Marianelli.
Since winning his Oscar for Atonement in 2007, Marianelli's output has been generally high quality, but surprisingly meager; The Brave One, Everybody's Fine, the wonderful Agora, and last year's Eat Pray Love were all fine works, but other than Agora none of them really came close to recapturing the refinement and elegance Marianelli showed in his earlier works for British period films - until now. Jane Eyre inhabits the same intimate sonic world as Atonement and 2005's Pride & Prejudice, and as such will appeal to fans of his style in that genre, but where Jane Eyre excels is in its emotional impact. This is a score which gets under your skin, makes you feel the nervousness and uncertainty Jane feels during her time at Thornfield, before exploding into rapturous romanticism.
The score is written for a comparatively small ensemble - a string orchestra, light woodwinds, and prominent solos featuring harp, piano, solo voices, and an utterly transcendent violin element performed by the 31-year old British virtuoso violinist Jack Liebeck, who was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1994. There is virtually no brass, and virtually no percussion, and as such the score retains a sense of somber classicism throughout its 44-minute running time. Liebeck's violin is the soul of the score; it is present in virtually every cue at some point, but often rises to the fore, especially in cues such as "In Jest or Earnest", the mellifluous "Waiting for Mr. Rochester", the stunningly rapturous "Yes!", the powerful and defiant "The Call Within", and the achingly beautiful conclusive pair, "Awaken" and "My Edward and I". In many ways, Marianelli sees Jane as the violin, and Liebeck's delicious performances express her emotions directly to the listener. When she is sad, or downtrodden, the violin echoes her despondency. When she is happy, or when her love for Rochester is finally reciprocated, the violin soars.
Marianelli's string writing is exceptionally clever. In many cues, each section of the strings - violins, violas, celli and basses - are doing four different things simultaneously, creating a wall of sound which threatens to overwhelm the listener, but which somehow manages to remain cohesive and coherent. This technique is most evident in two cues: the stunning "An Insuperable Impediment", which begins with a death-rattle bass passacaglia and gradually picks up the rest of the string section in turn, creating a sense of desperate unease as Thornfield reveals its secrets; and the subsequent "Jane's Escape", which maintains its dark and brooding aspect.
Elsewhere, Marianelli strips the score down to its barest bones, often featuring just a handful of instruments in tandem: cello and harp in "The End of Childhood", or an unaccompanied solo piano in "A Game of Badminton" and "Life on the Moors". The latter of these cues is an almost archetypal Brontëan piece: listening to it, one can almost picture a lonely Jane, standing on top of a windswept outcrop, gazing over a sea of frost-chilled heather and ferns, a grey sky heavy like wet towels threatening to engulf her, mirroring her despair.
The subtle vocal element that opens the score in "Wandering Jane" relates directly to Bertha Mason, the `insuperable impediment' which threatens to thwart Jane's dreams of a life with Rochester, and whose presence looms large over the entire narrative. It re-occurs later in the ghostly "A Thorough Education", the baleful and oppressive "Arrival at Thornfield Hall", and the eerie "A Restless Night", constantly reminding the listener that the creepiness that envelops Thornfield at twilight is not all as it seems. The vocals are performed by English soprano Melanie Pappenheim, whose voice also appears on Murray Gold's soundtracks of the recent BBC Doctor Who revival.
Jane Eyre does retain a highly classical and constant tone throughout the score, so listeners who require variety, or more action-based stimulation in their film music, are likely to find Jane Eyre something of a one-note effort. Personally, however, I found the score to be a triumph from start to finish. It's not a romantic score in the sense that Delerue wrote romantic scores - Charlotte Brontë's stories are too dour and too steeped in mist and bracken for that - but Marianelli's subtle, searching writing still allows the romanticism inherent in the story to shine through. It's a score which carefully weaves a musical web with strings as fine as silk, and draws the listener in.
In many ways, Jane Eyre is a score without weaknesses; every cue, even the shortest ones, have an important part to play in the score's narrative structure, which is rare indeed when too often soundtrack albums are littered with needless filler to pad out 80 minutes of available CD space. Jane Eyre runs for 44 minutes and 34 seconds, and would be poorer if it were any shorter, or any longer. This is, unquestionably, the first truly great score of 2011, and will be a major contender for score of the year honors.