Home > Reviews > MY COUSIN RACHEL – Rael Jones

MY COUSIN RACHEL – Rael Jones

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

My Cousin Rachel is a sumptuous period drama-thriller from director Roger Michell, based on the classic mystery novel by Daphne Du Maurier, and is a remake of the original screen adaptation of the novel from 1952, which starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. This new version stars Rachel Weisz as the eponymous Rachel, a beautiful young woman who marries a wealthy English landowner named Ashley. Ashley dies in mysterious circumstances overseas, and leaves his estate to his much younger cousin, Philip (Sam Claflin). Philip suspects that Rachel had something to do with Ashley’s death, and resolves to exact revenge; as such, he is not at all surprised when Rachel returns to England and begins making romantic advances towards him. What is surprising is the fact that Philip unexpectedly finds himself falling in love with Rachel in return. Are Rachel’s feelings for Philip real, or is she just looking for her next victim on her way to claiming an inheritance of her own? The film, which co-stars Holliday Grainger and Iain Glen, drips with rich Victorian-era trappings and a brooding atmosphere of Gothic melodrama, and has been the recipient of a great deal of critical praise.

The score for My Cousin Rachel is by the Yorkshire-born English composer Rael Jones. Jones may be an unfamiliar name to many people, but he is by no means a new kid on the block: he worked as a musician playing guitar and bass on numerous scores, he has been a music editor for composers including David Arnold, Patrick Doyle, John Powell, and Alexandre Desplat, and he contributed additional music to the hit BBC TV series Sherlock, before making his mainstream film music debut in 2014 on the wartime romantic drama Suite Française. Despite this full and varied filmography, My Cousin Rachel will likely be most people’s first exposure to Rael Jones’s music, but if the quality of the writing here is anything to go by, it will certainly not be the last.

As befits the English period setting of the film, as well as its themes of dark romance and melodrama, Jones’s score is rich and orchestral, making use of a large string orchestra with additional emphasis on solo piano and woodwind accents. There is a vein of traditional classicism running through the score, and you can hear the influence of some of the composers Jones has worked with in the past in his music, especially Patrick Doyle and Alexandre Desplat, notably through the quintessential British tones he adopts, and through the clarity and precision of the orchestrations. However, it is worth pointing out that this is not a ‘pretty’ score in the usual sense of the word; although Jones works in a predominantly consonant musical world, with lush harmonies and elegant chord progressions, there is a palpable vein of darkness and uncertainty to the music. It speaks to Philip’s conflicting emotions as they concern Rachel: he clearly doesn’t trust her, and feels she may be a murderess, but her liberated sexual appetite and physical beauty are bewitching him nonetheless.

The one major thing My Cousin Rachel lacks is a truly strong, memorable main theme that runs throughout the piece, but what it may lack in thematic immediacy it more than makes up for in tone. The core set of orchestrations – strings, piano, woodwinds – dominate the entire score without much deviation, but the score sparkles in the detail, and several cues feature little embellishments and flourishes which allow the music to rise above itself, and overcome the otherwise great potential for it to all become a little tedious.

The opening cue, “Who’s To Blame,” introduces one of the score’s main textural ideas, a sort of chattering, undulating piano figure accompanied by rich string harmonies. These mesmerizing, hypnotic, classical piano lines occur in several cues thereafter, notably in the more dark and ominous “Signing.” Pianos are the cornerstone of several other cues; “I Will Not Permit It” sees them harmonizing with woodwinds in morose fashion, and “Laburnum” presents them with a magnetic seesaw rhythm, while “Follow That Horse” and “Gallop To The Coast” are filled with elegant movement, a sense of purpose, and a real nervous energy, even going so far as to interject some quasi-jazz inflections in the latter. Some of this piano writing, in addition to the composers I name-checked earlier, also has positive echoes of someone like Dario Marianelli, and the sense of delicate elegance he brings to his period scores.

Elsewhere, “Memory of a Happy Day” and the subsequent “Happy Day” are warmer and more enticing, with syncopated summery piano writing, offset by light, especially lovely woodwinds, and harp accents. “Christmas” is lush and classical, with beautiful waltz like string figures. “First Kiss” begins with an unexpected sense of tension, but gradually melts into a series of warmer textures, underpinned by a prominent harp rhythm. “Enlightenment” is centered around a longing, elegant oboe melody bolstered by rolling pianos.

These cues are counterbalanced by several moments of harsh, aggressive, almost dissonant writing that speaks to the darkness and mystery surrounding Rachel’s past. “By The Throat” is shrill and insistent, with stark piano chords and agitated string sustains. “Laying in Bluebells” is quite unexpectedly dark, with a ground cello and dreamy, almost detached-sounding violins, which become very piercing towards the end of the cue. “Hallucinations” is quite abstract, featuring some rather disturbing orchestral collisions of sound, and “Suspicion” is another example of Jones’s personal style of dissonance, a glut of string rattles and oppressive atmosphere.

Possibly the best cue on the album is “Broken Pearls,” a cue which – again – opens with a sequence of tension for dark piano chords and string sustains, but gradually becomes violently passionate as it develops, a festival of swirling strings and thrusting, undulating piano lines. “What I Lack” is similarly stirring, featuring some especially fulsome string writing, delicate flutes, harp textures, and piano. The conclusive “My Torment” ends the score in somewhat downbeat fashion, but it is still a darkly romantic finale, featuring gorgeous string harmonies and lovely woodwind textures which conclude on a note of uncertainty.

Some may find Jones’s singular tone for My Cousin Rachel to be overly downbeat and depressing, some may find that the lack of a strong main theme results in it sounding a little anonymous, and others may find the adherence to strict classical form a little staid, but I personally enjoyed it quite a lot. It’s a difficult thing, finding that right balance between tone and tempo, maintaining the atmosphere you’re wanting to convey, while still making the score musically compelling. Personally, I found that Jones allows himself just enough room to be impressive, compositionally and emotionally, without sacrificing the overarching mood of veiled dread that permeates the entire film. Not only that, at under an hour, the soundtrack album never outstays its welcome, allowing the listener to luxuriate in the score’s bed of brooding melancholy before it becomes too much. This is, on the whole, impressive stuff, and I look forward to seeing where this talented composer goes from here.

Buy the My Cousin Rachel soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Who’s To Blame (2:05)
  • Memory of a Happy Day (1:28)
  • Headaches Blind Me (1:57)
  • By The Throat (2:01)
  • Clean Up (1:50)
  • Happy Day (1:52)
  • Christmas (2:00)
  • Tisane (0:48)
  • Signing (1:35)
  • I Will Not Permit It (1:40)
  • First Kiss (1:32)
  • Vine Climb (0:40)
  • Laying in Bluebells (2:19)
  • You Belong Here (1:56)
  • Broken Pearls (2:12)
  • What I Lack (3:59)
  • Cliff Path (0:48)
  • Muggins (1:46)
  • Hallucinations (1:16)
  • Laburnum (2:28)
  • Follow That Horse (1:36)
  • Enlightenment (2:43)
  • Gallop To The Coast (3:40)
  • Who’s To Blame – Reprise (1:49)
  • Suspicion (1:29)
  • My Torment (2:27)

Running Time: 50 minutes 09 seconds

Sony Classical (2017)

Music composed by Rael Jones. Conducted by Anthony Weeden. Orchestrations by Anthony Weeden. Recorded and mixed by Jake Jackson. Edited by Al Green. Album produced by Rael Jones.

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  1. Tom Hebbrecht
    June 28, 2017 at 7:51 am

    You are absolutely right. It is indeed the lack of a strong main theme that bugs me as well. The same implies to ‘Suite Française”. Great film, nice music, but not really an in-your-face theme.

  2. July 21, 2017 at 3:17 am

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