Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > FIRE OVER ENGLAND – Richard Addinsell

FIRE OVER ENGLAND – Richard Addinsell


Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1936 producer Alexander Korda came across the novel Fire Over England by A. E. W. Mason and believed it could be successfully brought to the big screen as a historical drama set in the Elizabethan era. He purchased the film rights and joined with Erich Pommer to manage production. Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov collaborated on writing the screenplay and William K. Howard took the reins for directing. A fine cast was assembled including; Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth I, Raymond Massey as King Philip II of Spain, Leslie Banks as Robin, Earl of Leicester, Laurence Olivier as Michael Ingolby, Vivien Leigh as Cynthia and James Mason as Hillary Vane.

The film is set in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1588 C.E. and follows events leading to the attack of the Spanish Armada. Michael Ingolby, along with his father Richard are captured after a sea battle by the Spanish commander Don Miguel, who allows Michael to escape. He is wounded and finds refuge in Don Miguel’s estate where his wound is treated by his daughter Elena. Both Elena and Michael are engaged, yet an attraction develops. Don Miguel informs Michael that his father was executed as a heretic, which causes Michael to flee back to England where he win’s Elizabeth’s approval for a secret mission to expose treason in the English court. He sails back to Spain in disguise and obtains papers from King Philip II to the traitors. He manages a harrowing escape after being discovers, and alerts the Queen as the dreaded Armada arrives. An audacious night strike with fire ships destroys the armada and Elizabeth rewards Michael with granting his marriage to his fiancé Cynthia. Film budget and box office information is not available. Critical reception was mixed with praise offered to a lavish production, with criticism for significant departures from historical realism. The film failed to earn any Academy Award nominations.

Richard Addinsell was a young, up and coming English composer who had acquainted himself well on his first two scoring assignments of His Lordship in 1932 and The Amateur Gentlemen in 1936. Alexander Korda and William Howard offered him the assignment, which Addinsell was very happy to accept as this would be the biggest film he ever scored. Upon viewing the film Addinsell realized he was being afforded a truly grand tapestry on which to compose. He understood that his music would have to speak to the pomp and pageantry of both the English Tudor and Spanish royal courts. He also saw Michael Ingolby as the dashing you hero he would need to animate and propel as he fights to save England. And lastly, he understood that his music would have to speak to Michael’s two romances with Cynthia and Elena.

For his soundscape, Addinsell composed three primary themes, and interpolated another, including; the English Theme resounds purposely atop grand fanfare bravura. Its articulation exudes strength, determination and English pride. In scenes that feature Queen Elizabeth it serves as a prelude, which ushers in her theme. Elizabeth’s Theme offers a serene marcia nobile that fully captures her royal personage and well as the pomp and pageantry of the Tudor court. The austere Inquisition Theme offers an overtly religious sensibility, yet with its notes we discern both fear and menace. Englishmen are considered heretics and the court’s usual sentence of death by burning at the stake, unforgiving and cruel. The Spanish Lady Theme offers an interpolation of the 16th century English love ballad “The Spanish Lady’s Love” by Thomas Morley. Addinsell utilizes it as an emblem of the two women that Michael’s loves; Cynthia his English fiancé, and the Spanish Elena, daughter of Don Miguel. The song melody is tinged with sadness, full of longing, and regret. It offers a commentary on unrequited love of a Spanish maiden as the English man who has captured her heart already has a fiancé waiting for him in England. Regretfully there is no commercial release of the score. As such instead of album cue titles, I will use film scene descriptors that are time indexed.

“Main Title” a bold score highlight, where Addinsell dramatically sets the tone of the film. We open with austere fanfare reale, which declare the English Theme and supports the roll of the opening credits. Trumpets of alarm take over and are joined by kinetic churning strings bellicoso, which create tension and urgency. At 1:31 the English fanfare reale reprises and ushers in the Queen’s Theme full of pomp and pageantry. We conclude with a grand extended rendering of the Elizabeth’s Theme rendered as a royal anthem as script displays “In 1587 Spain, powerful in the Old World, Master of the New. Its King Philip rules by force and fear. But Spanish Tyranny is challenged by the free people of the little island England” At 02:25 we segue into “Missing Pearl” atop spritely woodwinds, which flutter and dance as we see lady Cynthia frantically searching for a pearl missing from the queen’s dress. At 05:10 trumpets reale resound with multiple declarations in “The Throne Room” as Queen Elizabeth arrives to hold court carried by her noble theme. The music subsides as the Spanish ambassador voices King Philip’s grievances regarding English piracy led by Sir Francis Drake. Elizabeth deflects and dismisses the ambassador curtly and then departs on the Earl of Leicester’s arm carried by fanfare resounding with English pride.

At 09:39 we segue into “Ingoby Attacks” atop a proud declaration of the English fanfare as we see his ship ram a Spanish galleon followed by hand-to-hand fighting as they move to seize the ship. Addinsell propels the fight with a militarized rendering of the English Theme. Yet Michael Ingolby, along with his father Richard are captured by the Spanish commander Don Miguel. We close with a molto tragico rendering of the English Anthem as Don Miguel burns the English ship and returns to Spain with the Ingolby’s prisoners. At 11:42 we segue into “Don Miguel’s Gift” as he grants his friend Richard’s request to show mercy by allowing his son Michael to escape. Addinsell supports tenderly with a flute led nocturne. Richard counsels him to swim to shore, seek out Don Miguel’s estate and return to England. At 13:11 we see the approach of the Court Inquisitor, carried by the his austere religioso theme. As Michael leaps off the deck and escapes the English Theme supports his escape. We close on a dire statement of the Inquisition Theme as the Grand Inquisitor arrives to confront Richard.

At 13:49 we segue into “Elena and Don Miguel”, a delightful score highlight. We see Michael reaching shore supported by an idyllic woodwind narrative. At 13:59 we shift to Elena’s bedroom where she wakes to see her father’s return. Addinsell supports the tender father-daughter moment with a loving rendering of the Spanish Lady Theme by violin delicato with woodwind adornment. The reunion is broken when Michael arrives and collapses on the terrace, with Don Miguel’s orders that he be helped, and that his heretical English identity be concealed. At 17:54 we segue into “Burleigh and Cynthia” as we see her and her grandfather sharing a tender moment. She introduces the “Spanish Lady Theme” on harpsichord with her singing the song, but a letter from Spain severs her singing as Burleigh advises that Richard Ingolby has been captured and turned over to the Inquisition, with no word of Michael. She is frantic and the song melody embraces sadness. We flow seamlessly at 18:48 into “Elena and Michael” atop the melody, now transferred to Elena who plays a guitar as she sings to Michael. Yet she stumbles, and he grabs the guitar and sings the song to her, with her joining him in a tender duet. We see both of them have developed feelings towards the other and the melody shifts to strings romantico to speak to this, yet its articulation becomes sad when she reminds him that they are both engaged. At 20:36 string tension joins and the musical narrative darkens as he sees fire with billowing smoke burning in the distance joined by the religioso chanting of the Inquisition Theme. Michael is devastated later when Don Miguel informs him that the smoke was his father’s execution by fire for heresy.

Elizabeth meets with her Privy Council and must decide after Drake’s plunder of Philip’s personal treasure ship whether to keep the gold and induce war, or return it to forestall war. Michael arrives and in her private chambers advises her of the evil of Spain, and offers his father’s praise that she was a beacon of freedom. She accepts his service to her and departs. At 28:23 we segue into “Michael and Cynthia” where she runs into his welcoming arms carried fervently by strings d’Amore. Yet it is short-lived as the Queen squashes the kissing embrace with a rebuke and demand that she attend her. Playful woodwinds carry Cynthia’s departure and joining with the Queen in the next chamber. As she assists with changing her clothes and wig, benign harpsichord accompaniment supports. She disdains her appearance in the mirror and Elizabeth’s Theme joins with strings tristi as she declares she has grown weary of her disguises. At 30:42 a romantic rendering of the “Spanish Lady Theme” supports Cynthia’s return to her beloved Michael. The transfer of the melody to solo violin d’Amore with woodwind adornment is sublime. Once again Elizabeth comes upon them, rebukes them for their shameless public display and orders them to leave. Racing strings and woodwinds comico carry their flight from the throne room.

At 32:20 we segue into “Elizabeth and Leicester” as he offers a decree for her signature committing £60,000 to build the English fleet. There is still affection between the two and a romance for strings and solo violin d’Amore support the moment. At 35:11 we segue into “Arrival of the French Ambassador”, a score highlight, atop the pageantry and repeating declarations of court fanfare reale. At 35:41 the fanfare erupts with a grand declaration, which supports Elizabeth’s return from hunting. As she enters a sumptuous rendering of her theme carries her progress. At 36:18 a surge of tension supports the sight of an old woman bearing a pistol. Urgent strings propel Michael’s leap and disarming of the woman. She blames Elizabeth for killing her cousin and Queen Mary of Scotland. Because the pistol was unloaded, Elizabeth releases the woman. At 37:40 a grateful Elizabeth takes Michael’s arm and departs supported by a grand declaration of her theme. As she enters her chamber at 37:53 her theme softens and transforms into a promenade. When her distraught lover Leicester arrives her theme again transforms into a romance for strings as he kneels and is thankful that she was unharmed. At 40:15 we segue into “Vane Escapes” where he boards a ship that sails to Spain. Addinsell sow unease with woodwinds full of foreboding. When guards arrive to arrest him but he jumps overboard to avoid capture.

At 43:26 we segue into “Cynthia’s Plea” where she pledges her love and intent to join him should the Queen order him to leave the palace. A romantic rendering of the Spanish Lady Theme supports their kiss and attestation of love. At 43:43 the music darkens as the firewood crackling and flames remind him of his father’s horrible death. But her love for him reassures him and we bear witness to a love affirming beautiful romance for strings. At 44:50 the English Theme joins to support the arrival of the queen. She tasks him to assume Vane’s identity and take on his mission to Spain to determine the identity of the traitors in her court. Cynthia weeps and is consoled by the queen after he departs. At 47:39 we segue into “The Mission” where Burleigh and Leicester provide Michael with money and travel documents. They tell him that he must obtain the names of the traitors at all cost. A grave rendering of the English Theme supports the scene.

At 48:03 we segue into “Michael Meets the King” atop religioso choir as we see the Escurial, King Philip’s palace. Within the palace, the music subsides as Philip authorizes his fleet admiral to have the armada ready to set sail in one month. Vane (Michael) is then summoned to meet the king and reveal his plan for the queen. Michael states that she is to be kidnapped from the Greenwich Palace and then taken to Sir Humphrey Cooper’s estate on the marsh. A ship from Holland could easily reach the manor and take possession of the queen. He is the dismissed and told to await further orders. Later he meets Elena who recognizes him, yet does not expose his true identity. At 55:09 we segue into “After Dinner” where the house guests are serenaded by a diegetic folk love song supported by guitar. Michael accepts a challenge to provide an English love song and he grabs the guitar and sings the “Spanish Lady’s Love” song. We close with tension as Elena simmers at Michael’s audacity. Later he joins her on the veranda with a flute borne rendering of the “Spanish Lady Love Theme. She is conflicted and believes she must expose him, yet her heart recalls her feelings for him, reinforced by a transfer of the melody to a sublime solo violin d’Amore. A romance for violin and strings sustains the scene.

At 1:06:35 we segue into “Michael Exposed” when the king orders his arrest because he cannot relate to him the names of all the conspirators. After he is escorted out, a choir sings the hymn “O Magnum Misterium”. Don Pedro, Elena’s husband arranges for his escape fearing that Michael’s torture would expose his wife’s complicity in treason. At 1:08:35 we segue into “Michael Escapes” a score action highlight. Michael waylays his guards and flees for his life. Martial drums bellicoso propel his escape. Addinsell whips his orchestra into frenzy as Michael fights multiple sword fights and races through the palace seeking freedom. At 1:09:53 the English Anthem resounds as he blocks a door to the pursuing guards. He starts a fire, which causes alarm and confusion in the palace, and facilitates his escape. Orchestral kinetics propels him reaching the stables where a horse is provided with the anthem carrying his departure from the palace. At 1:12:22 we segue into “The Spanish Armada” atop a nautical musical narrative as we see hundreds of ships sailing on the sea. At 1:12:30 dire horns resound, buttressed by churning strings as English scouts witness the armada entering the English Channel and light signal fires to raise the alarm. Addinsell sow patriotic fervor with a galloping rhythm joined by drums of war as we see horsemen riding through many towns raising the alarm. At 1:14:00 a marcia militare supports the march of royal guards at the palace. The march is sustained, although muted as Elizabet informs Burleigh that she will personally lead her troops in battle.

At 1:16:18 we segue into “Elizabeth Warrior Queen” a score highlight atop martial field drums and resounding fanfare reale harmonics as the queen exits the palace in her battle armor bodice. At 1:16:45 we see her riding in the countryside ahead of her troops. Addinsell supports with an entwining of her theme and the English Theme for a sumptuous exposition, which culminates in a grand flourish as she arrives at camp to the roaring accolades of her troops. At 1:19:00 we segue into “Conspiracy Revealed” as Michael hand Elizabeth the list of traitors provided by King Philip. Martial field drums offer a cadence of doom joined by dire trumpets as she orders all of them brought to her at once. She then Knights Michael in gratitude of his service to the crown. Supported by the relentless field drums she confronts the six conspirators unarmed and challenges them as to why they have not drawn their swords and struck her down. They all kneel sheepishly and are rebuked for siding with tyranny, yet she grants them a noble death to redeem themselves by placing them under Michael’s command. At 1:22:38 an orchestral surge of tension supports her order to fight the armada not with swords, but torches. She orders Michael to send out incendiary fire ships into the congested channel in hopes of causing a conflagration that would consume the armada.

At 1:22:41 we segue into “Fire Ships” a magnificent score highlight as we see Michael preparing to execute their audacious plan. Forlorn woodwinds usher in a confident nautical musical narrative as we see the armada in the distance congested, and in very close quarters. Michael moves his five ships full of kindling in and orders them set aflame and as they are torched a proud rendering of the English Theme swells into a mighty anthem of victory as one by one the Spanish ships ignite in a sea of flames. As Michael swims to safety the English Theme transforms, offering a wondrous statement abounding with nobility and gratitude for perhaps the theme’s finest exposition off the score. At 1:25:38 we segue into “Victory” atop resounding celebratory church bells as we see countless bell towers ringing in victory. At 1:26:18 the music darkens as Elizabeth advises Leicester that their will now be rewards and punishment for the blind who will never see again. At 1:27:37 horns brilliante resound and usher in a noble rendering of the English Theme as walks into the courtyard to cheering subjects. As she kneels, she orders all to join her in giving thanks. Addinsell supports with religious solemnity as she leads them in a prayer of gratitude. Slowly horns trionfanti rise up and we close magnificently with a flourish of the English Theme.

The only commercial release of Addinsell’s score is the compilation album “British Light Music: Richard Addinsell” by the label Marco Polo, which offers an eight-and-a-half-minute suite. Until a film score label re-records the full score, this short suite will have to suffice. Addinsell was tasked with supporting the grand tapestry of an English swashbuckling film. He chose to support this film very differently than the grand opulence and romantic effusiveness of Korngold’s swashbuckling scores for Errol Flynn. The music is authentically English, more formal, more restrained, and fully embraces the musical sensibilities of the Tudor Age. His two English themes perfectly captured the pride, determination and gallantry of England, as well as the Queen’s royal personage, and the pomp and pageantry of the Tudor court. Juxtaposed was the grim and austere Inquisition Theme, which instilled fear and fully captured the menace of this implacable court. His interpolation of the song-like Spanish Lady Theme was well-conceived and executed, bringing romance and heart to the film. Folks, Addinsell is sadly poorly represented commercially by film score labels. For me, he is a gem in the British composer ranks and well worth your investment of time exploring his music. The music in the film is monaural and archival, which does not allow us to fully hear the beauty of his handiwork. Let us hope that someday soon his canon is offered a commercial release so that we all can enjoy and marvel at his handiwork.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a suite of the Main and End Titles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp-2eFxwsKM

Buy the Fire Over England soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Goodbye Mr. Chips – Theme (3:21)
  • Ring Round the Moon – Invitation Waltz (3:39)
  • The Smokey Mountains Concerto – First movement (6:36)
  • The Smokey Mountains Valley Concerto – Song (4:39)
  • The Smokey Mountains Concerto – Old Joe Clark (4:11)
  • The Isle of Apples (5:50)
  • The Prince and the Showgirl – Selection (6:01)
  • Tune in G (4:56)
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays Overture (7:55)
  • Festival (5:10)
  • Journey to Romance (3:39)
  • Fire Over England Suite (8:29)
  • A Tale of Two Cities – Theme (3:44)

Running Time: 68 minutes 10 seconds

Marco Polo 8.223732 (1937/2003)

Music composed by Richard Addinsell. Conducted by Kenneth Alwyn. Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Leonard Isaacs and Lionel Walter. Recorded and mixed by Ray Pilling. Score produced by Richard Addinsell and Muir Mathieson. Album produced by Tim MacDonald.

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