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TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN – Debbie Wiseman

October 13, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

tomsmidnightgardenOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I first heard Debbie Wiseman’s score to Tom’s Midnight Garden way back in the fall of 1998, at a special concert she gave at London’s Royal Festival Hall. It has taken well over two years for the film to be released, and for her lavish, sumptuous music to finally become available for all to enjoy. Scores of the quality of Tom’s Midnight Garden are rare indeed, and are worth waiting for. The film is based on the classic children’s novel by Philippa Pearce, and stars Anthony Way (the child star of the popular series The Choir) as Tom, one of many young boys who were sent away into the English countryside to escape the horrors of war raining down on the cities where they lived. Tom is sent to stay with his prissy Aunt and Uncle (Greta Scacchi and James Wilby) in a rambling old house away from London, and at first Tom is unhappy at being separated from his parents and his friends. But soon Tom discovers that unusual things happen in the old house: when the antique grandfather clock in the hall strikes thirteen instead of twelve, a magical gateway appears in the house’s walled garden, which takes him back in time – and into the company of a beautiful young girl named Hatty.

Tom’s Midnight Garden is quintessential Wiseman, and sees her working at the peak of her talents. Wiseman has always had a skill for writing majestic, moving melodies, and this score is no exception. Fully orchestral, with Wiseman performing her own piano solos in several cues, Tom’s Midnight Garden is everything admirers of her earlier scores could hope for. Although it may seem rather odd to say so, Wiseman’s sound is undeniably “British”, as she shares compositional similarities with other doyens of the British film music scene such as Patrick Doyle and George Fenton. Although at times reminiscent of her work on both Haunted and the wonderful Wilde, Tom’s Midnight Garden has a feeling all of its own: whereas Haunted was all about tragedy and loss, and Wilde all about unrequited love, this one is all about magic.

The main theme, which is virtually constant throughout, acts as the score’s anchor, and accompanies Tom on all his journeys back in time. Hopeful, child-like, romantic, and full of natural poise and grace, Wiseman’s thematic ideas dance through the score like leaves on a warm breeze; in cues such as ‘Extraordinary Discovery’, ‘Fulfillment of a Promise’, the beautiful performances and deep, rounded orchestrations shine through, creating an atmosphere of innocence and wonderment, while the marvelous staccato rendition in ‘A Garden Waiting For You’ in which the notes are cut off in their prime, gives the cue an unusual, almost circus-like feeling. Tenderly rendered instrumental solos also feature quite prominently, notably a superb extended passage for oboes in ‘Time for Eternity’.

The score’s original song, ‘After Always’, based upon Wiseman’s central theme, has dreamy lyrics by the legendary Don Black and is performed with feeling by West End star Barbara Dickson, although I do feel the tambourine clicks that interrupt the chorus are a little unnecessary – my only criticism of the score as a whole.

Several sub-themes manage to weave in and out of the score in different guises – the lyrical, self-important ‘Gentleman of the City’ presents new thematic material and occurs in several other cues (notably ‘Time No Longer’), either leading the melody or in counterpoint to the central Tom theme. A lumpy, vaguely comical enters the fray during ‘I Can See Everybody, and Nobody Can See Me’, and counterbalancing the frivolity and accentuating the fantastical and mystical elements of the story, some slightly darker material appears, especially during ‘Please Don’t Walk Through Me’, ‘The Thirteenth Chime’, the tragedy-laden ‘Leave Me Alone’, and ‘Beyond the Garden Wall’, in which the percussion section at times seems to be mimicking the internal mechanism of a clock.

Somehow, Debbie Wiseman has managed to build an impressive international reputation through just a handful of films: Tom & Viv, Haunted, Wilde, and the small screen drama Warriors. TV work aside, all of Wiseman’s scores to date have been about one thing – beauty – which makes her music extremely difficult to dislike on any level. It’s an impressive body of work for a career that started in earnest as recently as 1993, and with the imminent release of her tone poems “The Nightingale and the Rose” and “The Selfish Giant”, looks set to continue.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Tom’s Midnight Garden (2:44)
  • Extraordinary Discovery (5:23)
  • Fulfillment of a Promise (3:10)
  • Please Don’t Walk Through Me (1:19)
  • The Thirteenth Chime (4:20)
  • Gentleman of the City (4:27)
  • After Always (written by Debbie Wiseman and Don Black, performed by Barbara Dickson with Miriam Stockley) (3:46)
  • Beyond the Garden Wall (3:47)
  • Time for Eternity (3:05)
  • Writing to Peter (2:08)
  • Time No Longer (2:37)
  • Invisible Tom (2:17)
  • A Garden Waiting For You (3:43)
  • Goodnight, Miss Hatty (1:54)
  • Leave Me Alone (2:41)
  • I Can See Everybody, and Nobody Can See Me (1:31)
  • Return to Gage Street (4:27)
  • Trixie (3:10)

Running Time: 56 minutes 29 seconds

First Night Soundtracks REELCD-103 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by Debbie Wiseman. Orchestrations by Debbie Wiseman. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey. Mastered by Mike Brown. Album produced by Debbie Wiseman.

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