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Henry V - Patrick Doyle - Soundtrack review

This week I will talk about “Henry V”. I was not able to watch “Thor” to discuss Patrick Doyle’s music because of the usual Christmas craziness, private issues and longer working hours. Also, I thought that the music for “Henry V” is a much nicer score for the Christmas days because of the fabulous “Non nobis, Domine”. Usually, I try to find a Christmas soundtrack but could not find anything special to recommend this year, perhaps James Horner’s “Grinch”? But this will be something for next year.

The movie

“Henry V” (1989) is the directional debut of Kenneth Branagh and also the first time, the director works with his favourite composer Patrick Doyle together. The film stars Branagh in the title role with Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, Alec McCowen, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, and Christian Bale in supporting roles. Here is the trailer:

The film received worldwide critical acclaim and has been widely considered one of the best Shakespeare film adaptations ever made. For her work on the film, Phyllis Dalton won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design and Kenneth Branagh, in his directorial debut, received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Director.

I was pretty impressed when I saw the movie for the first time. Compare to Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” from 1944, Branagh’s movie is more realistic, the text of the play is heavily edited, and as a great idea, Branagh additionally used flashbacks using extracts from Henry IV in which Henry interacts with the character of “Falstaff”, who, in Shakespeare's Henry V, is never seen, merely announced to be deathly ill. The film also uses Falstaff's line "do not, when thou art King, hang a thief" from Henry IV but gives it to Bardolph, to highlight the poignancy when Henry later has Bardolph executed. If you imagine that the budget of the film was just $ 9 Mio., it is astonishing what Branagh has achieved.

The music

For Patrick Doyle, it was not only the first collaboration with Branagh, but it was also his first film score ever. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performed the score, conducted by Simon Rattle, and the soundtrack album features fifteen tracks with a running time just under an hour. Funny fact: Patrick Doyle also appeared in Henry V as Court (credited as Pat Doyle), who is the first soldier to begin singing "Non Nobis, Domine" following the conflict at Agincourt. Here is a live version:

In the liner notes, Doyle explains that “music has been a part of my career”, but until he met Kenneth Branagh, he was principally an actor. He points out that Branagh was first a little worried to work with an inexperienced composer, but after he played some sketches, Branagh was convinced. Doyle explains further how Simon Rattle became involved, and the album has also some liner notes by Rattle.

Branagh originally planned 50 minutes of music, but in the end, the film score grew up to 90 minutes. The director thought the film needed this amount to underscore the emotions, and therefore, Doyle composed the music like a musical mirror and explained that his approach was operatic.

The album starts with the peaceful “Opening title” and brings us with track 2 “Henry V Theme” already some action music. This continues in track 3 “The Three Traitors” and track 4 “Now Lords, for France”. Between these more dramatic tracks, we have some quieter tracks such as track 5 “The Death of Falstaff” (I like especially the majestic horn part) and track 9 “Upon the King” with a very nice flute solo. Track 8 “The Death of Bardolph” is a sad and melodramatic track for one of the very touching moments of the movie. Tracks 6 “Once more unto the breach” and track 7 “The Threat to the Governor of Harfleur...” offers again more dramatic music.

Here is Band of Brothers Speech before the battle, perhaps an inspiration for Mel Gibson's "Braveheart".

Track 10 “St. Crispin’s Day” give us finally the music for the big battle scene. One reviewer of the score said this track works like a symphony. I do not agree with this, but the track has a clear dramaturgical structure that is very convincing. The track starts with the drums to announce what will come, then it slows down and builds up the tension again with the strings and the piano, at 5’40, we have a touching quieter part before the track erupts again with dramatic music. For a track with over 14 minutes, there is surprisingly not very much action music in it, it is overall a very powerful but also an intimate piece. The last two minutes are an instrumental version of the song “Non nobis, Domine”, a wonderful part in this track.

In the liner notes, Kenneth Branagh explained that he wanted the score to be of “our time” and did not want authentically “medieval” sounds: “The score needed to be classically rich in tone but instantly accessible”. After listening to “The Battle of Agincourt”, you have a clear picture in mind what he meant. Track 11 “The Day Is Yours” is another example of the melodic, powerful but also intimate music, Branagh wanted to have.

Without a doubt, track 12 “Non nobis, Domine” is the highlight of the score, no more words necessary for this astonishing piece of music! I found one live verion, recorded during the 15th World Soundtrack Awards Ceremony & Concert where Patrick Doyle was honoured. Belgian Dirk Brossé conducted. For the people who remember: Brossé conducted the last Jerry Goldsmith concert in the Barbican when Jerry was already to ill to come, and he also conducted the John Williams concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 October 2018 when John Williams was already in London but to ill to conduct.

Track 13 “The Wooing of Katherine” is a melodic piece for one of the best scenes in the movie, and with track 14 “Let This Acceptance Take”, we have the last majestic track before the “End Title” with an even more powerful version of “Non nobis, Domine” closes the album.

“Henry V” received Academy Award nominations for Branagh as Best Actor and Best Director and won the Best Costume Design. The film holds an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Patrick Doyle’s first-time film music score is a marvellous debut that ranks as one of the best soundtracks of this composer. It is perhaps also his most classical one in the style of composing which is obvious in “St Crispin’s Day”.

The over-the-top attitude of scores such “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” you cannot find here, but the score has all the elements that you will find in the following scores of Patrick Doyle: wonderful melodies, action-packed tracks and his sense for lovely songs. In the liner notes, Branagh praised the composer: “What he produced surpassed my wildest expectations. A score of immense variation, power and melodic beauty, it as much as any other elements gives this film the chance of having a truly popular appeal. The music combines fearsome emotional guts with a magnetic “hummability”.”

If you do not have this score, I highly recommend buying it, and during all the Christmas songs in the next days, the song “Non nobis, Domine” can provide you with a nice break but still enlightens your heart for these most special days of the year. Merry Christmas!

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2018, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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