CD Review: DARKEST HOUR (Soundtrack by Dario Marianelli)

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by Tony Frankel on January 26, 2018



There are film scores which multiply suspense, doing the job quite well for the film, but not transportive to someone merely listening. In the case of Darkest Hour — Joe Wright’s film about Winston Churchill and the early days of his Prime Ministership, when Hitler was closing in on Britain during World War II — not only is Dario Marianelli’s score free of character and melody, it is saturated with minimalist repetition without the magic of Philip Glass. As such, it is rather a dull affair. The only track of 18 which sparked interest was “Winston and George,” which introduces a terrific classical romanticism (which Marianelli achieved so well in so many of his other scores with Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice); yet just as interest is piqued, the track starts to fade at just over one and a half minutes.

Unlike the moody, propulsive New Age permanent vamping of, say, Michael Nyman’s work on The Piano, the singular repetitive notes here just sit, even when beautifully played with trumpet and harp in “Where is Winston.” Sometimes, there’s that surreptitious British Harry Potter-esque whimsy (“Full English”); timpani and snare suggesting war (“The War Rooms”); and pounding kettle drums and insistent violins for an air raid (“From the Air”), but it all becomes textured tedium.

Then there’s Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólaffson, a promoter of new music. It’s rather shocking that the pianist has very little to show off his expertise; indeed, any studio musician could have done the job, as the piano keeps getting lost in the numbing insistence, which itself isn’t helped by the addition of syncopation for suspense.

And in Marianelli’s liner notes, I think he’s stating that his score contains a musical quote: the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which spell the letter “V” in Morse code, but I couldn’t find them. Nor could I locate music that was rousing, memorable, or emotional.

Darkest Hour
Dario Marianelli, composer
Víkingur Ólaffson, piano
Deutsche Grammophon
19 tracks | 52:06
released November 17, 2017
available at Amazon and iTunes

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