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THE ENGLISH – Federico Jusid

November 18, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The English is a 6-part television mini-series, co-produced by Amazon and the BBC. The show is an epic, romantic, action-packed but also uncompromisingly bleak and realistic western which follows the fortunes of an aristocratic English woman who finds herself on a quest for revenge on the plains of north America circa 1890. Emily Blunt plays Lady Cornelia Locke, who travels to the old West searching for the man she holds responsible for the death of her son; upon arrival, she immediately crosses paths with Eli Whipp, played by Chaske Spencer, a Pawnee who has just finished an honorable tour of duty as a cavalry scout for the US Army, and is trying to get back to his home. The fates of Cornelia and Eli are drawn together when they save each other’s lives, and from then on the bond that develops between them helps them in their epic trek across the rugged terrain, as they encounter ruthless cattle barons and gold prospectors, shady businessmen, vicious mercenaries, and various other dangers that threaten to keep them from their destiny. The series co-stars Rafe Spall, Tom Hughes, Stephen Rea, Toby Jones, and Ciarán Hinds, and is written and directed by Hugo Blick.

The English might be one of the most visually beautiful television shows I have ever seen. The cinematography – by Spanish DP Arnau Valls Colomer – is a lovingly crafted homage to all the great westerns of the past, one part John Ford, one part Sergio Leone, with a splash of Terrence Malick thrown in for good measure. The landscape shots, the fascinating use of shadows and silhouettes, the intense closeups, and the deep, gorgeous color palette, goes a long way to enhancing the sense of poetry imbued in the whole thing. The English is exciting and dramatic and occasionally arrestingly violent, but is also has an unexpectedly thoughtful, philosophical, almost dreamily romantic side, which often comes through in the conversations between Cornelia and Eli that punctuate the action. Even the supporting characters are well-crafted, multi-faceted individuals that never come across as lazy stereotypes, lifting the whole project significantly above stock western fare and into the pantheon of things that feel much more meaningful.

The score for The English is by the brilliant Argentine composer Federico Jusid, who has excelled at writing music for historical television dramas for many years now; his scores for Isabel, Carlos Rey Emperador, Tiempos de Guerra, and La Catedral del Mar were rightly lauded by the IFMCA, and I personally have a soft spot for things like Hispania and Gran Reserva too. As far as I know, Jusid has never written a score for a ‘classic western’ before, but on the strength of his score for The English, this is yet another genre at which he excels.

Much like Hugo Blick’s direction is an homage to the great western directors of the past, Federico Jusid’s music is an homage to several of the all-time great western scores. There are elements of Ennio Morricone’s classic Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns here, as well as elements of John Barry’s classic romantic western Dances With Wolves, alongside more subtle inspirations from both the Golden Age of western music – Elmer Bernstein, and so on – and the revisionist 1970s western scores by people like Jerry Goldsmith and Jerry Fielding. All of this is filtered through Jusid’s own impeccable dramatic sensibility, resulting in a score which feels both steeped in the traditions of the genre, and also refreshingly new. Jusid and the director worked for almost a year developing this score, and some scenes were edited specifically to conform to the rhythms of Jusid’s music, which gives the entire thing a sense of completeness that is sorely lacking from so much of today’s film music.

The score, which was recorded in Hungary with the Budapest Art Orchestra, is based mostly around its rousing main theme, which is introduced in the “Opening Credits”. It’s a wonderfully catchy melody, instantly memorable, which emerges out of a bed of intense percussive ideas, and is eventually carried by a twangy guitar, backed by the fulsome orchestral ensemble and even a subtle choir. It’s pure Morricone – intentionally so – and has many of the same quirky instrumental choices and idiosyncratic rhythmic textures that made the Italian’s music for the western genre so iconic.

To Jusid’s credit, though, he’s not content to simply present one simple arrangement of the theme. Instead, the theme crops up everywhere in different guises – I especially like the thunderous action variation in “Coming for Eli Whipp,” epic and rousing, and which features some wonderful little flourishes in the composition and the instrumentation, not least of which is the use of an Alessandro Alessandrini-style whistler.

“Tâtačiksta – I Cherish You” is the first performance of the romantic theme for Cornelia and Eli, and features a breathy monologue performed in character by Emily Blunt over a longing, yearning theme performed initially by a solo acoustic guitar (shades of Lennie Niehaus’s score for Unforgiven), but which eventually melts into a performance on a lush piano, and then for a conventional orchestral ensemble. Blunt’s poetic narration might be distracting for some people, especially those who have always felt that dialogue on soundtrack albums is a distraction, but I have actually come to quite like it; it only appears in this one cue, and it sort of captures the essence of the character – her quixotic belief in fate, stars, and destiny, which clashes with Eli’s more pragmatic, grounded personality.

“Cornelia and Eli” offers a variation on the theme with a gentle, tender, achingly romantic sentiment that is pure John Barry, just gorgeous; those deep, warm horn chords just embrace your soul. Likewise, the slower and more introspective “And Yet Here We Are” is built around the deliberate, precise string work that Barry used so perfectly in Dances With Wolves. On the other hand, “Crumbling Is Not An Instant’s Act” is a fascinating variation that seems to blend the romance theme with some elements of church music – tolling bells, an organ, liturgical voices – and some unusual, impressionistic flurries that dart between strings and horns, a dramatic lament that speaks directly to the revelations regarding the death of Cornelia’s son, and how that impacts Cornelia’s own fate.

“A Chase Is On” is the first of the score’s rousing action cues, energetic guitar licks and vibrant cascading strings that clash against tumultuous rasping brasses and bombastic timpani hits. Some of the rhythmic ideas here are quite off-kilter and staccato, redolent of the angry, aggressive western music that one might have heard in scores like The Wild Bunch. It’s brilliant, breathless stuff, instantly evocative of horses galloping hell for leather across the prairie. Later, the first half of “That’s My Cattle” is a wonderful tribute to the Golden Age of western music – all Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross – blended with some more unusual percussive ideas that feel more akin to Jerry Goldsmith and something like Wild Rovers, making it a challenging, fascinating exploration of both styles simultaneously.

The more horrific aspects of the story are characterized by cues like “Cheyenne Tree Burial,” the second half of “That’s My Cattle,” “Nothing Worth Dying For,” and “Powder River,” all of which take unusual percussion items, ethnic instruments, and elements of sound design, and blend them together to create a mood of unease and impending danger. “Nothing Worth Dying For” is especially fascinating from a textural point of view; the way Jusid blends a plucked stand up bass with eerie string harmonics and low, breathless woodwind sounds is quite fascinating, and occasionally reminds me of the way Marco Beltrami captured the bleakness of the old west in his score for The Homesman. The enormous flurry of percussion, and the subsequent orchestral drama, in the cue’s finale, hammers home the seriousness of the situation in context. Similarly, the conclusion of “Powder River” is terrifically exciting, an intense explosion of string rhythms, horns, and enormous thunderous percussion.

The score’s 8-minute finale is a wonderful summation of the score’s melodic parts, underscoring the scene where, having finally completed their journey together, Cornelia and Eli are forced to part ways. Jusid offers several exceptional variations on the main English theme – one for elegant strings, one for an intimate acoustic guitar, one for a sentimental solo piano – surrounded by gorgeous orchestral textures that follow the shifting emotions of the protagonists as their fates are sealed. A final statement of their love theme comes back in the cue’s final moments, solo violin backed by tremolo strings, before the whole thing climaxes with a haunting Pawnee vocal lament performed by lead actor Spencer; another emotional callback to the finale of Dances With Wolves, as a noble native warrior ululates passionately into the wind.

The score album is rounded out by a performance of Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12, also known as the American Quartet, which was written by Dvořák during his stay in America around the same time as the series is set; it actually plays a key role in one of the most important scenes, being performed on-screen by a piano tuner in beautiful but ironic juxtaposition to a scene of shocking violence. Also featured on the album are five folk songs performed by The Wailin’ Jennys, Melanie, Crooked Still, Ora Cogan, and Tom McRae, which either play over the episodes end credits, or accompany lyrical montages featuring more of the show’s luscious cinematography. I admit I’m not a huge fan of the songs in context – they sometimes sound a bit anachronistic – but they are nice enough for what they are.

I’ve written already about the Golden Age of Television Music, and how 2022 has been blessed with some of the best TV scores in recent memory – Bear McCreary’s The Rings of Power, Hesham Nazih’s Moon Knight, Season 3 of The Orville by John Debney and Joel McNeely, Daniel Hart’s Interview With the Vampire, Season 3 of His Dark Materials by Lorne Balfe, Cobra Kai, The Gilded Age, and several efforts from Japan. Now The English is yet another addition to this stellar list. It’s a wonderful homage to all the best western scores throughout the history of the genre – Morricone, Barry, Bernstein, Goldsmith, and more – which is given a wonderfully contemporary spin by Federico Jusid’s immense talent, that perfectly accentuates the beautiful visuals of the show itself, and enhances it’s inherent drama. If the right people are listening, I can see this being in the conversation for the Emmys next year, and if Jusid were to pick up his first nomination there is would be very well deserved, albeit somewhat overdue.

Buy the English soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Credits (1:12)
  • Tâtačiksta – I Cherish You (feat. Emily Blunt) (2:26)
  • A Chase Is On (1:50)
  • Cornelia and Eli (2:22)
  • Cheyenne Tree Burial (1:16)
  • Coming For Eli Whipp (1:47)
  • Crumbling Is Not An Instant’s Act (2:40)
  • That’s My Cattle! (2:42)
  • And Yet Here We Are (2:30)
  • Nothing Worth Dying For (3:18)
  • Powder River (2:20)
  • Soon Has Come (feat. Chaske Spencer) (7:38)
  • String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, B. 179 – American Quartet – II. Lento (written by Antonín Dvořák, performed by The Moyzes Quartet) (7:39)
  • Long Time Traveller (performed by The Wailin’ Jennys) (2:10)
  • Some Say I Got Devil (performed by Melanie) (3:25)
  • American Tune (performed by Crooked Still) (3:08)
  • Katie Cruel (performed by Ora Cogan) (4:08)
  • You Cut Her Hair (performed by Tom McRae) (2:46)

Running Time: 55 minutes 45 seconds

Silva Screen SILED-1707 (2022)

Music composed and conducted by Federico Jusid. Performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra. Orchestrations by Tomás Piere and Gustavo Gini. Recorded and mixed by Santi Quizhpe and Manuel Pájaro. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Federico Jusid.

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