Following Merlin, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Animal
Farm, here is yet another lavish Hallmark TV movie. This time Charles
Dicken's much filmed family favourite returns with Patrick Stewart's Scrooge
boldly going where so many fine actors have gone before. Accompanying him
in the highly acclaimed film are Richard E. Grant, Saskia Reeves and Celia
Imrie, Dominic West and Joel Grey.
If the cover art and stills of the soundtrack CD are any indication, this
is an appropriately dark and gothic treatment of the classic. Surrounded
by darkness, a black-clad Patrick Stewart looks thoroughly menacing and certainly
in need of redemption.
There are many soundtrack albums that can be enjoyed purely as a musical
entity, quite disconnected from the subject of the film the music was written
to accompany. Others are, for various reasons, necessarily intimately entwined
with the subject of the movie. Here is one such score, and an excellent one
it is too. Over 29 often very short tracks Stephen Warbeck builds a musical
tapestry which balances his own new themes with instantly recognisable music
of the Christmas season.
The opening 'Funeral' is filled with serene foreboding, leading to an elegant
and very English main theme first stated in 'Walking Home'. A warm brass
arrangement of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' is contrasted with the chill
strings which herald the appearance of 'Marley's Ghost', while 'The Torture
of Remorse' is glacial in its emotional bleakness. A sombre treatment of
the main theme is given in 'Wandering Ghosts', an echo of the darkest moments
of the composer's Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love. 'The Ghost of
Christmas Past' has an utterly lovely sense of pastoral melancholy, the brief
'Fran's Tune', is a lyrical pipe lament.
'Fezziwig's Party', a longer track divided into four sections, is a very
different affair, offering a lively jig and a jolly song, a polka and a waltz,
all linked with cheery sounds of celebration. 'Scrooge Alone' provides another
beguiling melancholy melody, with now a greater human warmth being expressed
by a solo violin. More atmospherics lead to a setting of 'Silent Night',
the deliberately unpolished voices evoking the genuine sound of carol singers,
rather than the beauty of a choral treatment. Several other Christmas melodies
appear in various guises, 'The First Noel' and 'God Rest You Merry Gentlemen',
between them lie passages of breathless spectral beauty, delicate orchestration
shimmering like cold fire balanced between the light and the dark. A questing
urgency appears in the relentless strings of 'Ignorance and Want', before
Scrooge finally faces 'Death' the tolling of a graveyard bell marking the
turning point, as the music builds to a pitch of bleak intensity briefly
reminiscent of Vaughan-Williams later symphonies. The final tracks are in
celebratory mood, as Scrooge return to humanity, with the ode to shyness
'Topper's Song' being the sort of brief ditty Eric Idle might once have written.
'Christmas Polka' offers playful pizzicato piano, 'A Different Side to Scrooge'
is both warm and poignant, while 'The End' is upliftingly romantic in the
best English tradition.
A Christmas Carol is a fine score which I can only imagine must work splendidly
with the film. The CD itself offers many pleasures, though the fact that
many tracks are very short, combined with the decidedly wide range of moods
and atmospheres, means that this is probably not an album with such a general
appeal as the Shakespeare in Love soundtrack. Nevertheless, for serious
film music lovers, this is a most appealing release, and further evidence
of the fine talents of one of our most composers.
Gary S. Dalkin