Home > Reviews > THE CIDER HOUSE RULES – Rachel Portman


December 10, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

ciderhouserulesOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Considering that the screen versions of the majority of John Irving’s novels have been largely fluffed (Simon Birch, The World According to Garp), it is immensely encouraging to hear that Lasse Hallström’s version of The Cider House Rules is well in the running for being voted the best film of 1999. Set in a New England orphanage, the film stars Tobey Maguire as a young orphan named Homer who lives under the care and tutelage of kindly gynecologist Dr. Larch (Michael Caine). When Homer decides that he wants to experience the world outside the orphanage walls, he hooks up with a young married couple, Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy (Charlize Theron), who run an apple farm. However, when Wally joins up for service and Homer and Candy are left alone, things begin to develop between the two.

After a brief diversion down the ethnic road in Beloved, Rachel Portman returns to familiar territory with The Cider House Rules, but this is not to say that the score is commonplace. In fact, this could well be the most beautiful score Rachel Portman has ever written – a remarkable feat when you take into consideration her past triumphs, which have included The Joy Luck Club, Sirens and the Oscar-winning Emma. There is something truly magical and sweeping about The Cider House Rules. This is a score in which a listener can become hopelessly and deliciously lost in wave upon wave of overwhelming romanticism.

Effectively, the score is built around a single theme, heard prominently throughout the album. Despite bearing a superficial similarity to Jerry Goldsmith’s Rudy, the main theme shimmers brightly in every cue it appears, anchored by the magnificent piano performances by John Lenehan that characterize many tracks, especially ‘Homer’s Lessons’, and the beautifully melancholy ‘Young Girls Burial’ and ‘Burying Fuzzy’. When the lush string orchestra reaches skywards, especially in the cues ‘Main Titles’, ‘Homer Leaves Orphanage’, ‘The Cider House’, ‘Homer Returns to the Orphanage’ and ‘End Credits’, Portman’s rich melodies are encased in a blanket of warmth and beauty that frequently sends shivers down the spine and brings tears to the eyes. It did in my case, that’s for sure.

In other cues, notably ‘The Ocean’, ‘Wally Goes Off To War’ and ‘Lobster Dinner’, the whimsical dancing violins and charming woodwind lines that characterize so many of Portman’s scores occur once more, providing a musical link to the rest of her career, and allowing the film’s sense of life and fun to become fully realized. At the other end of the scale, ‘Abortion’ is desperately sad, and features a spellbinding oboe solo. In an attempt to provide a little counterbalance, one could say that the score is rather repetitive, rarely deviating from the style and tone set out in the first bar of the first cue, but quite frankly I don’t care. There is a grace and beauty and delicacy about this music seldom heard in modern film scores.

Without wanting to sound in any way sexist, perhaps part of the reason for this score’s brilliance lies with Portman’s gender – there is something about the way Hollywood’s female composers approach their scores that allows them to get straight to the emotional heart of their films, often with greater results than their male counterparts. It is surely no coincidence that, since the beginning of the 1990s, there are now more women composers in regular employment than ever before, winning awards and receiving plaudits from far and wide. Throughout her career, Rachel Portman has blazed the trail for all other women to follow, and she could well have reached the very pinnacle here. Although I have not yet heard all there is to offer, I doubt whether I will listen to a lovelier score this year.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (2:10)
  • Homer’s Lessons (3:43)
  • Young Girls Burial (0:42)
  • Homer Asks Wally for a Ride (1:27)
  • Homer Leaves Orphanage (4:37)
  • The Ocean (0:59)
  • The Cider House (4:13)
  • Wally Goes Off To War (1:48)
  • Lobster Dinner (0:51)
  • Burying Fuzzy (1:35)
  • Homer & Candy on the Dock (2:21)
  • Rose Rose is Pregnant (1:16)
  • Abortion (0:50)
  • Pickers Leave (1:16)
  • Dr. Larch Dies (1:37)
  • Homer Returns to the Orphanage (3:42)
  • Good-Night, You Kings of New England (1:06)
  • End Credits (4:36)

Running Time: 40 minutes 43 seconds

Sony Classical SK-89031 (1999)

Music composed by Rachel Portman. Conducted by David Snell. Orchestrations by Rachel Portman and Jeff Atmajian. Featured musical soloist John Lenehan. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble. Album produced by Rachel Portman.

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