Hallmark have once again plucked a composer whose name is not exactly recognisable to even the more ardent film music fan and given him a solid small screen adaptation with big screen values and come up trumps. George Orwell's excellent, but none too subtle allegory on the Russian Revolution and its aftermath inspired Harvey to write an excellent, but none too subtle musical take on the Russion Revolution and its aftermath. The occasional choral marching song echoes the stirring patriotism of Prokofiev and despite the English lyrics comes up trumps (I usually think that large choral pieces where you understand the lyrics sound odd - but that's just me).
It starts, to be fair, not quite as promisingly as one might have hoped. The rhythmic synth laden opener gives the impression that we're in for a dollop of sub Hans Zimmer action, but afterward, this style is generally abandoned in favour of a fully orchesrtal and choral approach. Harvey's music gives what is essentially an intimate story the great scope and epic backdrop of the Russian Revolution. The peasant marching song that turns into one of the main choral themes featured in Old Major's Last Words is one such example of the way the music successfully integrates itself into the story and reinforces the dramatic events. One of the most inspiring moments has to be Commandments where the choral theme plays with great dignity and with stirring patriotism.
The.drama is occasionally offset by some more light hearted musical antics, but these don't undermine the more serious side too seriously. There are a few notable set pieces such as The Battle of the Barn which delivers a short, but exciting and frenzied action outing. Similarly, the Big Battle (Richard, need a bit of work on the track titles mate...!) starts with a thundering call to arms style march but in the second half with moves into action of almost Miklos Rozsa proportions, choir and all. The following track, Snowball Banished is succinctly brutal with harsh, militaristic outbursts. While sounding comedic in nature, the Song of a Grateful Duck is actual a soprano aria wonderfully sung by Nicole Tibbels who is eventually joined by the full orchestra and choir to give it the kind of sound that wouldn't be out of place in an opera.
After the stormy events of the first half, the second half is a lot more subdued and perhaps there is the occasional track which could perhaps have been removed to no great detriment. However the score much better than anyone might have dared hope. It features the kind of strong and dynamic scoring that on television is almost non-existant and even on the big screen doesn't feature as much is it used to. It is thematic and each chapter of the story is carried along in an extended tone poem. Even better than all of that, there are no annoying plagurism complaints which tend to dog even the best television scores more often than one would like. If Mr Harvey doesn't receive many more offers based on this charismatic effort then something is sorely wrong.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad