Home > Reviews > LIGHTHOUSE – Debbie Wiseman

LIGHTHOUSE – Debbie Wiseman

February 4, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

lighthouseOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Good evening, ladies and gentleman, and here is the news. Bernard Herrmann has returned to film scoring, but this time he’s wearing a dress and calling himself Debbie. Okay, so I’m having a little joke at the expense of Debbie Wiseman, but please understand that in saying that I am attempting to pay her a compliment. Lighthouse, the latest score by the talented British composer, is a menacing work which could have easily come from the pen of the master of suspense himself. It is a landmark score for two reasons. Firstly, it marks the first time since Shirley Walker tackled Turbulence that one of the top female composers has written for an action movie; and secondly, it’s the first time that Wiseman herself has had a high-profile assignment that isn’t a period romance.

A British-made action thriller (it is part of satellite network Sky’s ongoing commitment to make new British films), Lighthouse is directed by Simon Hunter and stars James Purefoy as Richard Spader, one of a group of convicts being transported by boat to the hellish, remote, Marshalsea Prison. Under cover of the stormy seas, a violent prisoner named Rook (Chris Adamson) manages to escape from the boat and reach a nearby lighthouse on the treacherous Gehenna Rocks. Killing the keepers and disabling the beam, Rook forces the prison ship onto the rocks, sinking the ship and drowning everyone on board – with the exception of Spader and ship’s doctor Kirsty McCloud (Rachel Shelley). Together, the unlikely pair reach Gehenna safely, but find that their problems are far from over when Rook takes exception to their presence.

Those whose only experience of Wiseman’s music is through the lovely, lush melodies of Tom & Viv, Haunted and Wilde should be prepared for a major surprise. Lighthouse is a dark, visceral and, at times, a downright angry score. As is usual for a Wiseman score, much of the music is string based, but whereas her previous works have all been about lightness and delicacy, Lighthouse is about dread. There are two main recurring elements in the score, both of which are heard in the opening cue, ‘Lighthouse’. The core of the score is formed by a bed of dark strings overlaid by a series of repetitive three-note brass fanfares, alternately passed between trumpets and horns and accompanied by a dull but deliberately paced drumbeat. Personally, I find this theme to be highly reminiscent of Howard Shore’s work on The Silence of the Lambs, both in terms of orchestration, tempo, and the overpowering sense of misery in the music itself.

The three-note brasses tend to act as an leitmotif for the character Rook, and provides accompaniment to many of his wretched deeds through subsequent cues such as ‘Rook Escapes’, ‘Exploration’, ‘Ordeal By Water’ and ‘The Easiest Killing’. By comparison, Peter Manning’s mournful violin solos are like a tiny glimmers of light peeking through the seemingly impenetrable darkness. Although by no means “nice” pieces in themselves, their inclusion is nevertheless markedly less sinister than the rest of the score, an effect which is further compounded by the gentle, music-box like countermelody Wiseman occasionally adds in. Further recapitulations of the music box melody, in ‘McCloud’s Secret Past’ and others, effectively give the listener a moment to catch their breath. Similarly, the penultimate ‘Rescue’ cue is more about a conveying a sense of relief than anything else, with a hopeful string and piano theme that seemingly speaks for the characters by saying “thank God that’s over!”

However, the most impressive elements in Lighthouse are undoubtedly Wiseman’s action cues, especially ‘Mistaken Identity’, ‘Trophies of a Killer’, ‘The Final Challenge’ and the barnstorming, hair-raising ‘Showdown’. In these cues, Wiseman integrates a throbbing electronic pulse into the music, driving her resounding horn calls, slashing strings and heavy basses along at a breakneck pace. In parts, Lighthouse’s action cues sound quite similar James Horner’s work on Aliens, mainly as a result of the way in which Wiseman makes use of an anvil to add a harsh, uncompromising edge to her music.

Even if it does not accomplish anything else, Lighthouse will remain an important score because it disproves beyond doubt the old fallacy that women can’t write action scores. It would not be an overstatement to say that, in terms of old-fashioned horror and excitement, Lighthouse is one of the best thrill rides I have undergone for a while, and even if it had not been written by Wiseman it would surely still have been received by the press as a top-drawer score in its own right. Between herself, Anne Dudley (whose American History X had some superb action music as well) and Shirley Walker, a new avenue for women’s composing is being forged here. Wouldn’t it be great if, as a result of scores like this, we found one of these three, or even Rachel Portman, scoring a Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster?

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Lighthouse (5:02)
  • Mistaken Identity (3:36)
  • Rook Escapes (3:46)
  • Trophies of a Killer (3:08)
  • McCloud’s Haunted Past (2:22)
  • Showdown (5:09)
  • Firetrap (3:29)
  • The Final Challenge (2:13)
  • Exploration (1:51)
  • The Trap Is Set (2:18)
  • Ordeal By Water (1:39)
  • The Easiest Killing (2:04)
  • Macabre Discovery (2:00)
  • Escape (1:20)
  • Workshop of Death (2:25)

Running Time: 42 minutes 32 seconds

Silva Screen FILMCD-335 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by Debbie Wiseman. Orchestrations by Debbie Wiseman. Featured musical soloist Peter Manning. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey. Mastered by Mike Brown. Album produced by Debbie Wiseman.

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