Home > Reviews > ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE – Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE – Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman

October 12, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The first Elizabeth movie, released in 1998, was a critical and a commercial success, receiving glowing reviews from the mainstream media, and being honored with Oscar nominations in numerous categories, including one for its composer David Hirschfelder. The first Elizabeth movie told the story of the early years following young Elizabeth’s coronation as the Queen of England, concluding with her betrayal by her lover Robert Dudley and her assumption of the iconic “Virgin Queen” persona. This “sequel” tells the story of what happened during the next years of her reign.

Cate Blanchett returns to one her most important roles, and this time is ably supported by character actors Clive Owen as dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, Geoffrey Rush reprising his role as the Machiavellian advisor Sir Francis Walsingham, and Samantha Morton as Mary Queen of Scots, as well as Rhys Ifans, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander and David Threlfall in smaller roles. For the film’s music, Indian director Shekhar Kapur turned not to Hirschfelder, but instead to the unlikely pairing of Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman. Despite the two composers inhabiting vastly different musical worlds – Armstrong is a modernistic Scottish composer with a Hollywood pedigree that includes films such as Moulin Rouge and Love Actually while Rahman is a Bollywood legend whose musical roots lie in the spiritual world of Islamic Sufism – their collaboration is a complete success.

Whereas in the first film Hirschfelder strained to attain a certain degree of period accuracy through his use of Elizabethan era compositional techniques and authentic source music from Renaissance composers like William Byrd and Tieleman Susato, Armstrong and Rahman have largely dispensed with any notions of writing 16th Century music and simply scored the emotion of the film – a decision which has ultimately made this score a much more satisfying work than its predecessor. Armstrong and Rahman use a large symphony orchestra, a Latin choir, solo female soprano vocals, and several featured instruments ranging from cellos and Spanish guitars to duduks and an evocative Indian dilrubi, giving the score an impressive scope and a detailed musical palette which becomes richer and more rewarding upon repeated listens.

The main themes are all beautifully rendered and intricately detailed. The “Opening” features a spellbinding solo violin performance by Clio Gould which dances magically around the orchestra, instantly drawing the listener into a Golden Age of regal opulence and intellectual enlightenment. “Now You Grow Dull” features a performance of an achingly poignant string theme, the base of which forms the core of later cues such as “Horseriding”, “Bess and Raleigh Dance” and “Love Theme”, illustrating the passionate, but ultimately ill-fated romance between the Virgin Queen and her rakish suitor.

As the impending conflict with King Philip II of Spain continually looms on Elizabeth’s horizon, the music adopts a definite militaristic turn. Some cues, such as the bold and menacing “Philip” and the tumultuous “War/Realization”, are unashamedly contemporary, the latter making especially notable use of modern electronics to enhance the color, as well as layers of synthesized percussion and vibrant action rhythms. However, somewhat unexpectedly, these touches do not stand out as being anachronistic or out of place; on the contrary, they actually seem to humanize Elizabeth and her plight by making it relevant to the trials faced by those in power today. Similarly, the evocative Indian sounds Rahman brings to the table, and which are clearly evident in cues such as “Mary’s Beheading” and the mesmerizing, Lord of the Rings-esque “Divinity Theme”, never sound like an alien intruder forcing their way into a Western sonic world. One of the best things about the score is that, with a couple of obvious exceptions, it’s difficult to ascertain where Armstrong’s music stops and Rahman’s begins. Their seamless collaboration is a testament to the talent of both men.

However, as the score slowly builds towards its climax, it is Armstrong and Rahman’s orchestral and choral prowess which takes center stage. “Horseback Address” is one of those stirring battle-rallying moments where a fearless leader inspires their troops with a speech full of patriotic fervor, while the music rises to a tremendous crescendo in the background. It’s becoming a cliché now, but the impact of the music is no less impressive, and is certainly one of this album’s highlight cues. The resulting “Battle” is another highlight, a mass of slashing strings, low brass chords, deep male voices and clacking, nervous percussion.

There’s more than a hint of Georg Friedrich Handel’s famous coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’ in “Storm”, a wonderfully vibrant and energetic choral piece, while the stirring and spine-tingling “Closing” inserts a host of tolling bells to the choral and orchestral splendor, resulting in an appropriately regal, yet overwhelmingly powerful finale.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a quite superb album, and easily one of the finest scores written in 2007. Those who enjoyed earlier Armstrong works like Plunkett & Macleane (which also combined classical orchestral textures with a modern electronic undercurrent) will find that Elizabeth: The Golden Age is similar in style and tone, but broader in scope and richer in texture, filled with passion and energy, and containing several moments of great orchestral power and choral majesty. Highly recommended.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Opening (1:31)
  • Philip (1:51)
  • Now You Grow Dull (0:57)
  • Horseriding (1:38)
  • Immensities (2:41)
  • Bess And Raleigh Dance (2:34)
  • Mary’s Beheading (3:22)
  • End Puddle/Possible Suitors (2:06)
  • War/Realization (2:57)
  • Destiny Theme (2:31)
  • Smile Lines (1:15)
  • Bess To See Throckmorton (1:03)
  • Dr. Dee Part I (3:18)
  • Horseback Address (2:26)
  • Battle (3:29)
  • Love Theme (2:51)
  • Divinity Theme (5:08)
  • Storm (3:00)
  • Walsingham Death Bed (1:51)
  • Closing (2:01)

Running Time: 48 minutes 30 seconds

Decca B009829-02 (2007)

Music composed by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman. Conducted by Cecilia Weston. Orchestrations by Craig Armstrong, A.R. Rahman, Matt Dunkley, David Donaldson and Kazimir Doyle. Featured musical soloists Clio Gould, Andy Findon, Anthony Pleeth, John Parricelli, Paul Clarvis, Martin Robertson and Saroja. Special vocal performances by Catherine Bott, Sarah Eyden, Catherine O’Halloran and Mariyam Toller. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Album produced by Craig Armstrong, A.R. Rahman and Geoff Foster.

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  1. October 10, 2017 at 6:01 am

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