Home > Reviews > BEING JULIA – Mychael Danna

BEING JULIA – Mychael Danna

October 15, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

beingjuliaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A period drama with theatrical overtones, Being Julia is the latest film from respected Hungarian director István Szabó. Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, and set in London during the 1930s, the film focuses on the popular and successful stage actress Julia Lambert (Annette Bening), a woman in her 50s whose youthful elegance allows her to play roles 20-30 years her junior. Bored with her marriage to theatre director Michael Gaslin (Jeremy Irons), and with her stage career, Julia embarks on a passionate affair with Tom Fennell (Shaun Evans), and young and ambitious American abroad. However, when Julia’s stage performances begin to flounder in the wake of her new ‘interest’, Michael replaces her with up-and-coming actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) – who also happens to be Tom’s girlfriend. Intent on becoming the “next Julia”, Avice shines in her performances – but the current Julia isn’t ready to be replaced, and carefully plots her revenge.

With lavish production design, and an acclaimed performance by Bening, Being Julia was one of the critical successes of late 2004, even if it failed to set the box office on fire. One aspect of the film which has also been singled out for praise is the classically rich score by Canadian composer Mychael Danna, working in a style totally removed from ethnically-tinged works for which he is most famous – 8MM, The Ice Storm, and his scores for Atom Egoyan.

Danna’s music, for want of a better description, sounds very English: it’s the kind of score Patrick Doyle, or George Fenton write when they are asked to musically depict the English aristocracy, the landed gentry, or when they are scoring the works of Shakespeare or Jane Austen. Essentially built around one single theme, Danna’s work somehow perfectly captures the intellectual nature of the subject matter, the passion inherent in the story, and the airs and graces of the time and place in one fell swoop: not an easy task to achieve, but one which has been achieved with a great deal of success.

The main theme is a beauty: memorable and attractive, but with and air of regality, Danna even managed to inject the ‘classical squeak’ into Stephen Sitarski’s violin performances to add another layer of classical sheen. Although the cues themselves are comparatively short (the longest is just under three minutes, the shortest just 13 seconds!), the sum of the parts nevertheless leaves a positive impression: cues such as “Curtain Up”, “The Real World”, “Farewell My Love”, “Never Seen them Shine Like That Before”, “Take a Break”, “Curtain Call” and “Quite Alone” are all quite magnificent in their way, each featuring majestic performances of the main theme, while the harp waves and pizzicato strings of “The Lift”, the moody woodwinds of “I Saw The Light On”, and the dark strings of “Take a Break” and “The Stage is Set” eloquently accentuate the drama of the story.

To flesh out the 20 minutes or score to a 40 minute album, Varèse have included a number of period songs on the CD: the fact that named like Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, Jerome Kern and Noel Coward are among the songwriters should give you some inclination as to their quality. Being Julia is certainly a score which deserved attention, especially for fans of quintessentially English-sounding scores, or those who want to hear a very different side to Mychael Danna. Scores such as Ride with the Devil and Hearts in Atlantic more than proved he was versatile. Being Julia merely underlines that fact.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Curtain Up (1:09)
  • The Real World (1:36)
  • The Lift (0:40)
  • Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (written by Sholom Secunda, Jacob Jacobs, Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, performed by The Andrews Sisters) (2:44)
  • Farewell My Love (0:54)
  • Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries (written by Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, performed by The Mills Brothers) (1:24)
  • Never Seen them Shine Like That Before (0:49)
  • Birthday Presents (1:00)
  • It Will Only End in Tears (0:22)
  • They Didn’t Believe Me (written by Jerome Kern and Herbert Reynolds, performed by Denzel Sinclair) (1:24)
  • Charades (1:02)
  • I Saw the Light On (2:42)
  • Am I Late? (0:43)
  • Not That Sort of Girl (0:57)
  • Take a Break (1:43)
  • Yes Yes (written by Con Conrad and Cliff Friend, performed by Andrew Paton Story Busher) (2:56)
  • Avice Gets the Part (0:29)
  • Reunion (0:43)
  • Play for the Other Side (0:39)
  • Mad About the Boy (written by Noel Coward performed by Denzel Sinclair) (1:59)
  • Jimmy’s Magic (0:13)
  • Avice Takes a Bow (0:42)
  • For Old Times’ Sake (0:43)
  • Laird O’Drumblair (0:46)
  • The Stage is Set (0:31)
  • Curtain Call (1:23)
  • Smoke Gets in your Eyes (written by Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, performed by Alison Jiear) (2:18)
  • Quite Alone (2:42)

Running Time: 36 minutes 05 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6621 (2004)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted by Nicholas Dodd. Orchestrations by Nicholas Dodd and Mychael Danna. Featured musical soloist Stephen Sitarski. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel and Ron Searles. Edited by Paul Intson. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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