Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Current) > CD Reviews > CD REVIEW: THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL

Composer: Paul Cantelon
Label: Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Price: $16.98
Grade: A

Since the time that Eric Wolfgang Korngold put baton to Henry VIII for 1937’s The Prince And The Pauper, film composers have had a ball hanging out in England’s most notorious royal court – a period whose intrigue spanned Henry’s lethally amorous adventures to the triumph of his unwanted daughter Elizabeth. And in that time, we’ve heard glorious musical heraldry ad infinitum, with enough heraldic trumpets and majestic orchestras to stuff the frills of an entire costume department. But that’s not to say the typical “royal” score hasn’t been worthy of a king, especially John Barry’s tragic romance for Mary Queen Of Scotts (just out on Intrada) or Georges Delerue’s equally poignant strings in Anne Of The Thousand Days.

If David Hirschfelder modernized the blue-blooded musical genre with his eerily impressionistic score for Elizabeth, then Paul Cantelon’s new soundtrack for The Other Boleyn Girl combines the best of both scoring worlds – signifying royalty with an atypically somber orchestra, yet not forgetting the appeal of the regal. It’s a musical attitude that says much about contemporary scoring’s disdain for playing romance on the nose, whether it be Medieval or modern. Yet that doesn’t mean that Cantelon doesn’t deliver the emotional goods with style. Having graduated from the Klezmer-centric score of Everything Is Illuminated to the wondrous interior soundscape of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Cantelon’s work for The Other Boleyn Girl represents another evolutionary leap for him, one that signifies Cantelon as perhaps the most significant composer to arrive since Alexandre Desplat got Hollywood’s notice on Girl With A Pearl Earring, and like that “period” score, Cantelon relies on long, glistening orchestral passages, their melodic secrets gradually, and beautifully revealed. But unlike Earring (also ironically starring Scarlet Johansson), the stakes here are life, death and kingdom instead of finishing a painting. The way in which Cantelon applies history’s dramatic force, while making it musically relevant are impressive without going over the top, as costume scores of this type are wont to do.

Sure it has the hottie casting coup of Johansson and Natalie Portman. But The Other Boleyn Girl never panders to ripped bodices, going for what might be the visually darkest, and perhaps most historically accurate look at Henry VIII’s intrigues. It’s an approach that gives the score a downer feel, the sense of fate waiting ahead at every turn. But then, perhaps the moralistic appeal of the Boleyn sisters’ story has been about seeing the dream of becoming royalty turn into a nightmarish walk to the executioner’s block. And it’s a foreshadowing that colors all of The Other Boleyn Girl, making for a score that’s lush without ever giving in to outright happiness, even if for the moment. But if ill portent is the driving mood here, Cantelon has a way of turning it into the stuff of poetic tragedy, especially as the themes for Mary and Ann take full shape through the course of the score. And while Cantelon never indulges in the orchestral flourishes of Delerue’s score to Anne Of The Thousand Days (still the film to beat for this story), that composer’s melodic, melancholy spirit is very much alive in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Though a full, and often lush orchestra are on hand here, Paul Cantelon effectively captures the spirit of two women in a gilded cage. One feels loneliness in it, while the other schemes as to the best way to own it – a musical approach that contrasts one character’s true nobility and the other who designs to wear its cloak. The score is very much about this isolation, even when it soars with tragic motifs. This chamber feel is captured with such Baroque-sounding instruments with the guitar, violins, chorus, flute and piano, while eerie electronic tonalities keep the score contemporary to our ears – an approach that helps make the visual and melodic themes as contemporary as today’s politics. And unlikely Craig Armstrong’s unbearably bombastic score for Elizabeth – The Golden Age, the big percussive and symphonic stuff that shows up for the fateful end is a deserved melodic catharsis. But even then, Cantelon doesn’t go for the money, cutting off a huge musical execution with the simple phrase of a flute, an especially nice touch in an already memorable score.

If costume epics and the way to score them have to indeed be re-jigged to appeal to an audience more likely to sit through the latest Miley Cyrus concert film than watching Cate Blanchette in body armor, then The Other Boleyn Girl is the way to do it. Paul Cantelon has managed to recall the past scores of Henry VIII and his wives with an intelligent, yet subdued regalness that has an eye to the melodic future. This might not be the roaring Medieval score from good olde Hollywood days, but the spirit of their melodic passion is very much on the throne in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Court the Boleyn sisters HERE