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NOUVELLE-FRANCE – Patrick Doyle

November 19, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

nouvellefranceOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been a while, but Patrick Doyle is back. Having been displaying his considerable talents in the arenas of quiet British comedy (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Calendar Girls) and period farce (Gosford Park) since the turn of the millennium, Scottish composer Doyle has finally returned to the romantic soundscapes he created regularly in the early 1990s and applied them to Nouvelle-France, a lavish French-Canadian film which called for the broad themes, lush orchestrations and powerful melodies many of us fell in love with a decade ago.

The film, which is directed by Jean Baudin, is an epic love story set against the historical events which took place in Canada in the mid-1700s.  Having endured one devastating attack after another by British colonials seeking to expand their territories in the new world, King Louis XV of France finally sells the territory of Québec (then known as Nouvelle France) to them, setting in motion a sea change in the cultural and personal lives of the inhabitants of what was then deemed “a vast frozen wasteland”. Against this backdrop of social upheaval, the film focuses on Marie-Loup (Noèmie Godin-Vigneau), a simple Québécois peasant girl whose work as a healer and knowledge of native medicines have made her a social outcast in her community, who brand her a witch. Her life changes forever when she meets and falls in love with François Le Gardeur (David La Haye), a fur trapper and adventurer who has rejected his classical education and privileged background and embraced the rugged wilderness of the Canadian north. However, it transpires that the Le Gardeur family have been using their vast fortune for illegal purposes, and the new English rulers are keen to show their control of the natives by stamping down on corruption. Soon, it becomes apparent that François will have to make a choice – leave Québec and his love for the safety of France, or stay and face the consequences of his family’s actions…

The film has a spectacular supporting cast (Gerard Depardieu, Irene Jacob, Tim Roth, Vincent Perez, Jason Isaacs), and handsome production values, but the stand-out for many has been Patrick Doyle’s splendid score, which hearkens back to the glory days when he wrote scores such as Indochine, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Une Femme Française. Peculiarly, Doyle is one of the few British (or American) composers who regularly work on foreign language films: by my count, this is his fifth, the last being the magnificent 1999 score East-West. For some reason, foreign language films seem to bring out the best in Doyle – yet again he has composed a remarkably beautiful work for a film not in his native tongue.

With musical nods of the head to the aforementioned trio of Indochine, Une Femme Française and Frankenstein, as well as some of his other scores for Kenneth Branagh, Nouvelle-France is a glorious reminder of the Patrick Doyle of old, who has been away from our screens and our CD players for far too long. Performed with strength and passion by the City of Prague Philharmonic, the score is a sweeping, majestic epic, bristling with memorable themes, exciting action, swooning romance, and a hint of period grandeur. The main motifs of the score are effectively summarized in the opening 7-minute “Ouverture”, but thankfully this does not make the rest of the album redundant. There are many musical moments to savor within.

The noble-sounding main theme, first heard in the “Ouverture”, re-appears with pleasing regularly throughout the score, notably in the poignant “La Lettre”, the strident “Nouvelle France n’est Plus” and the moving “Le Départ de France”, but the emotional core of the score is the romantic theme, depicting the relationship between Marie-Loup and François, and to a lesser extent their own love for Canada itself. Written for a high base of almost Alfred Newman-esque strings, and with echoes of some of the best works of Doyle’s past, it anchors everything else around it, forming the core of cues such as the gently playful “Bonjour Marie” and the powerful “Le Destin de Marie-Loup”, and receiving virtuoso performances on its own in cues such as the glorious “Des Étoiles Dans Ma Tête” and the superb “Les Retrouvailles”.

“Les Hommes de Bigot”, “L’Intervention d’Angélique”, the martial “La Bataille de Québec” and the dramatic “Bagarre Dans la Fôret” each contain exciting action material, underpinned by the tumultuous string writing and powerful swirling brass fanfares that distinguished scores such as Frankenstein and Hamlet. Although they never come close to matching the sheer primal intensity of Doyle’s 1994 classic, they do make a number of powerful statements which illustrate the personal and political turmoil of the period, as well as the fierce clashed with colonial forces the Québécois were forced to endure. “L’Intervention d’Angélique” is especially worth noting for its clever lush setting of the main theme against the action motif.

“Le Bal – Gavotte & Menouet” is a pretty baroque dance, not too far removed from the classical English sound he adopted on Sense and Sensibility, and with the added bonus of a harpsichord accompaniment. Finally, the film’s delicate love theme is re-worked into a beautiful ballad “Ma Nouvelle France”, with lyrics by Luc Plamondon, and performed with tenderness by Cèline Dion. There is something inherently romantic about a song sung in a beautiful language you don’t understand, and this one is no exception: like her earlier French ballad “Pour Que Tu M’aimes Encore”, “Ma Nouvelle France” has a mysterious, enchanting quality, which is only further enhanced by Dion’s gentle performance and Doyle’s sublime melody (although, oddly, it occasionally reminds me of the lyrical part of “Prima Donna” from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera!).

As I write this review, I find that I am running out of superlatives to describe Patrick Doyle’s work on Nouvelle-France. It’s easily his best score in the last five years, and at times comes close to matching, or even surpassing, the best work of his career to date. If, over the years, you have grown fond of Doyle’s lush orchestral style, and especially scores such as Frankenstein, Indochine, or Hamlet, then I recommend this album to you wholeheartedly.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Ouverture (7:04)
  • Bonjour Marie (2:34)
  • Les Hommes de Bigot (1:59)
  • Le Bal – Gavotte & Menouet (2:30)
  • Des Étoiles Dans Ma Tête (1:58)
  • L’Intervention d’Angélique (1:12)
  • La Lettre (3:29)
  • La Bataille de Québec (2:38)
  • Nouvelle France n’est Plus (1:58)
  • Maillard et Marie-Loup (4:22)
  • Les Retrouvailles (4:26)
  • Bagarre Dans la Fôret (1:51)
  • La Berceuse de Marie-Loup (1:35)
  • Le Départ de France (4:18)
  • Le Destin de Marie-Loup (7:40)
  • La Fin de l’Histoire (1:49)
  • Ma Nouvelle France (written by Patrick Doyle and Luc Plamondon, performed by Céline Dion) (3:10)

Running Time: 54 minutes 53 seconds

Filmtrax CK-81198 (2004)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by James Shearman. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic. Orchestrations by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman and Lawrence Ashmore. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by James Bellamy. Album produced by Patrick Doyle and Maggie Rodford.

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