MOUNTBATTEN: THE LAST VICEROY – John Scott
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy was a critically acclaimed 6-part British television series, telling the astonishing life story of Louis Mountbatten, a member of the British aristocracy, and a cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. The series chronicles his life as a British statesman and naval officer; he served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in South-East Asia during World War II, and afterwards was appointed Viceroy of British colonial India, where he successfully negotiated with both Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and oversaw the transition of power from the British Empire to the independent nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in 1947. Following his work in India, Mountbatten returned to Britain, and subsequently served in the government as a senior member of the military, until he was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army in 1979. The series was directed by Tom Clegg, starred Nicol Williamson, Janet Suzman, and Ian Richardson, and had a score by the great English film composer John Scott.
I would wager that a large number of today’s young film music aficionados have never even heard of John Scott, let alone heard much of his music. It’s true that he was never considered amongst the elite in terms of the prestige of the projects he was asked to score – his most well-known and successful films remain the Kirk Douglas action movie The Final Countdown (1980), the Tarzan drama Greystoke (1984), the Sidney Poitier action thriller Shoot to Kill (1988), and the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Lionheart (1990) – but he always endowed his films with rich, thematic orchestral scores that often vastly out-shone the quality of the films themselves. He’s still working and writing music today at the age of 85, living in Los Angeles, and serving as the artistic director of the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra.
The score for Mountbatten is large scale, and fully orchestral, with a significant number of instrumental soloists and textures from the Indian subcontinent, as befits a story which takes place during one of the most important periods in that region’s history. Tonally, it embraces several styles of music, ranging from patriotic British pomp and circumstance, to traditional Indian ragas, as well as some darkly powerful dramatic scoring to illustrate the dark days of violence and tragedy leading up to the granting of independence. It’s also a perfect snapshot of the type of music John Scott has written throughout his career – interesting, instrumentally varied, melodically strong, engaging orchestral music that begs to be heard by a larger audience.
Mountbatten’s theme, first heard in the “Main Title,” is grand and ostentatious, with more than a passing resemblance to the great British patriotic tune ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ by Sir Edward Elgar. It’s a theme with a noble, longing quality, especially in the strings, but which is also full of resplendent brass flourishes, evocative of the stately, regal standing of the man at the center of the story. Subsequent cues such as the warmly romantic “The New Viceroy,” the sumptuous “A Tryst With Destiny,” the lush “Independence Day,” and the dignified but emotional “Goodbye India” build on Mountbatten’s theme, while the final part of the “Banquet” sequence is a festival of dances and waltzes, albeit one which offers a stark juxtaposition of imperial opulence against the desperate poverty of the natives.
Counterbalancing this is the traditional music of India, which is conveyed in several cues with performances from regional instruments including sitars, tablas, and the iconic bansuri flute. Cues such as “The Homeless,” the first part of “Banquet,” “Teachings of Gandhi,” and “The Column” are gentle and evocative pieces, redolent of the place and the people, although Scott’s frequent subtle inter-weaving of these instruments with western strings and light brass illustrates the cultural collision in the country at that time. Elsewhere, “Nehru” is more urgent and distinctive, with a strong secondary theme for the man who would go on to become the first prime minister of an independent India, while “Refugee Camp” has a quiet desperation about it, speaking to the plight of the millions displaced by the conflicts that racked the country during that period.
The more intense dramatic music tends to accompany scenes of separatist violence against the British forces by Hindu and Muslim independence freedom fighters, and the equally violent repercussions they suffered at the hands of the British in retaliation. “Mob Violence” is a frantic, fraught action cue featuring an especially notable brass triplet motif; “Jinnah and the Muslim Day of Action” has a militaristic, percussive undercurrent, before eventually emerging into a stark, tumultuous action sequence; and the middle section of “Banquet” owes quite a debt to John Williams’s Jaws.
The consecutive trio of “Horror Train,” “Upheaval of Nature,” and “Rape of a Village” feature a relentless sense of impending danger, highlighting some Stravinsky-esque moody woodwind writing and dance-like rhythmic ideas, as well as some brutally dissonant string passages that are amongst the best action sequences of Scott’s entire career. The subsequent “Assassination of Gandhi” has just as much tension and tragedy as one would expect for such a turning point in the history of the world. Best of all, however, is the staccato, unexpectedly dark action writing in “10,000 Patans,” which shares some Golden Age stylistics with Miklós Rózsa of all people, and if that’s not a compliment I don’t know what is.
The score for Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy was only ever legitimately released on vinyl LP, by Varese Sarabande in the United States and by TER in Europe at the time of the show’s initial broadcast in 1986, and was quite a rarity for almost 30 years, until Varese finally re-released it as part of their LP-to-CD Subscription series in January 2016. If you have never taken the time to listen to John Scott’s music before, the score for Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy would be as good a place as any to start, especially for anyone who enjoys classically-inspired, traditional orchestral scores with a healthy dose of vivid action, exotic regional spices, and a dash of British imperialist pageantry.
Buy the Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Mountbatten (Main Title) (1:38)
- The Homeless (2:17)
- Mob Violence (2:33)
- The New Viceroy (3:39)
- Nehru (0:57)
- Jinnah and the Muslim Day of Action (3:07)
- A Banquet (1:48)
- Refugee Camp (1:18)
- 10,000 Patans (2:44)
- A Tryst With Destiny (2:50)
- Independence Day (3:12)
- Teachings of Gandhi (3:02)
- Horror Train (2:25)
- Upheaval of Nature (1:07)
- Rape of a Village (1:59)
- Aftermath (1:38)
- The Column (3:01)
- Assassination of Gandhi (1:31)
- Farewell Dinner (2:23)
- Goodbye India (1:50)
- The Last Viceroy (End Titles) (1:41)
Running Time: 47 minutes 19 seconds
Varese Sarabande VLE-9200-11 (1986/2016)
Music composed and conducted by John Scott. Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by John Scott. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Album produced by John Scott.