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THE SECRET GARDEN – Dario Marianelli

September 15, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There have been numerous film and television adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 novel The Secret Garden over the years, including one starring Margaret O’Brien released in 1949, and one executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola in 1993, which was the most recent version released in cinemas prior to this one. The story is one of innocence, magic, and friendship, and is regarded as a classic of English children’s literature. It tells the story of Mary, a young girl who grows up spoiled as member of the aristocracy in British India; when her parents die in a cholera epidemic she is sent to live with distant relatives in an isolated mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. Despite initially hating her new surroundings, Mary begins to warm to her new life after she discovers a secret walled garden hidden in a remote part of the estate. As Mary spends more and more time in the garden she starts to learn the history of the place, her family, and the house itself – which eventually leads her to make a startling discovery that changes her life forever. The film is directed by Marc Munden from a screenplay by Jack Thorne, stars Dixie Egerickx as Mary, and features Colin Firth and Julie Walters in supporting roles.

The score for The Secret Garden is by the Anglo-Italian composer Dario Marianelli, who is no stranger to writing music for British literary classics, having already previously scored such titles as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Jane Eyre. Anyone who has appreciated any of those scores, or indeed any of Marianelli’s scores for other period dramas, will find plenty to enjoy in The Secret Garden. The whole score is a paean to the northern English countryside – verdant hedges, endless seas of purple heather and golden rapeseed, rows of multi-colored flowers nodding in the breeze, watery sunlight peeking through a vast expanse of cloudy skies. It’s perhaps a lazy shorthand to namecheck composers like Vaughan Williams as Marianelli’s inspiration, but the similarities are certainly there; Marianelli’s score is rich and thick with beautiful orchestrations, and warm and welcoming themes, a celebration of gentle and idyllic nature.

The orchestrations in general are one of the most impressive things about the score. In addition to the usual standard orchestral complement Marianelli makes notable use of things that are plucked and struck and rubbed – harps, chimes, bowls, possibly a harpsichord, possibly a glass harmonica, possibly a celesta, alongside the familiar piano. This gives the score a daintiness, an elegance, and a sense of movement, which matches perfectly with the wonderment and excitement Mary feels as she explores her new home. There is also a sort of imperceptible sense of magic to the whole thing, like Mary’s adventures are part of a much bigger fairytale that only she and her friends are allowed to experience. It’s all just lovely, calming and peaceful, like a musical dream.

The opening few cues – from “A Lost Girl” through to “Skipping Rope”– are very much like this, and are filled with gorgeous textures and harmonies, each reflecting Mary’s changing mental state as her life in India is upended and she travels half way across the world to live with people she barely knows. The score’s recurring main theme is really only hinted at during this first section, never fully revealing itself, and the times it does appear – in cues such as “Arrival at the Estate” and “A Walk in the Night” – it is actually performed with a hint of darkness and trepidation, and even some bittersweet sadness, to illustrate the loneliness and isolation that Mary feels during her first weeks at Misselthwaite Manor.

This all changes at the end of “Dog Happiness,” and then in the pivotal “Climbing the Wall,” which underscores the moment where Mary discovers the garden for the first time, and her theme is finally heard in full. The subsequent “The Garden” expands on the main theme significantly, and is a sheer delight – vivacious, colorful, expressive, and filled with wondrous touches in the orchestrations. It is in this cue that many of the score’s most notable instrumental soloists come to the fore, notably Jack Liebeck’s violin, Caroline Dale’s cello, and Marianelli himself on piano. Flutes dart and dazzle like mayflies over a lily pond, the strings dance nimbly around them, and the whole thing is awash in a golden glow that is just gorgeous.

Most of the rest of the score is built around additional statements of this main theme, arranged in a variety of different but equally lovely ways, with different cues taking turns to highlight different instrumental textures and different emotional moods. Cues like “The Locked Room,” the mischievous “Kidnapping Colin,” and the playful “Mary Gets Caught,” are worthy of note, but perhaps the most rewarding refrain comes in “Colin Gets Up” when Colin – the ill little boy who Mary finds locked in his room in a dusty corner of the manor, and who is the source of the mysterious nighttime wails that previously disturbed her sleep – is inspired by the garden to finally break free of his ailment and embrace life. Marianelli’s arrangement of the theme here is bold, inspiring, and uplifting in all the best ways.

There is some darkness too; the opening parts of “The Hidden Letters” have a wistful, slightly forlorn sound to them that at times reminds me of Alexandre Desplat, before the whole thing turns into an urgent duet for strings and piano underpinned with a hint of desperation. “The Garden Wilts,” as one might expect, has a tone of sadness, while “The Fire” is by far the score’s darkest moment, and sees the main theme altered into something that is at times quite brutal, featuring prominent brass and heavy, dominant percussion.

Thankfully, “Healing” restores the score to its former glories with an absolutely exquisite arrangement of the main theme for the full orchestra, before an utterly gorgeous Marianelli piano solo in the conclusive “Garden Lullaby” ends the score on a quiet, intimate note. The album also includes an original song, “The Secret Garden,” written and performed by the Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora Aksnes with an ethereal, fragile delicacy and a whispery airiness in her voice.

The Secret Garden is a lovely score, and will especially appeal to anyone with an affinity for the English pastoral sound that Marianelli brought to earlier scores like Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre. The recurring main theme is one of those ones that slowly and quietly charms you rather than hammering you over the head immediately, and is all the better for it, while the orchestrations are sublime, offering delicate and dreamlike combinations of instruments that capture the magical atmosphere of the film as a whole. This is the type of Dario Marianelli score I like the most; it offers a beautiful, enchanting portrait of child-like innocence and pastoral elegance. Like the secret garden itself, it is easy to get lost in this sylvan musical paradise, a haven away from the horrors of the real world.

Buy the Secret Garden soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A Lost Girl (0:49)
  • Mary Ditches Her Doll (2:31)
  • Arrival At The Estate (1:09)
  • A Walk In The Night (1:26)
  • Skipping Rope (2:02)
  • Dog Happiness (2:25)
  • Climbing The Wall (1:01)
  • The Garden (3:47)
  • The Locked Room (2:37)
  • Colin Gets Up (2:26)
  • Dickon (1:11)
  • Kidnapping Colin (2:47)
  • Mary Gets Caught (1:10)
  • The Hidden Letters (2:44)
  • Colin’s Baptism (2:33)
  • The Garden Wilts (2:54)
  • Uncle Lights The Candle (1:41)
  • The Fire (5:21)
  • Healing (5:28)
  • Garden Lullaby (1:17)
  • The Secret Garden (written by Aurora Aksnes, performed by Aurora) (4:05)

Running Time: 51 minutes 36 seconds

Decca Classics (2020)

Music composed and conducted by Dario Marianelli. Orchestrations by Dario Marianelli, Geoff Alexander and Julian Kershaw. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Michael Connell and Mark Willsher. Album produced by Dario Marianelli.

  1. Fer
    January 25, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Great review as always. I would love to know your thoughts on Marianelli’s Pinocchio as well, a completely different (and more italian) version of him.

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