Saturday Soundtrack # 4
The Lion in Winter Film released in the 1968
Original Sound Track Recording, music composed and conducted by John Barry
The 1968 big screen adaptation of the stage story of The Lion in Winter remains an impressively dramatic powerhouse. Brilliant performances by Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, at the heights of their careers, would have made this film a classic alone. Throw in additionally gripping performances by young actors Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton, and you get a film for which a musical score could have easily been an afterthought.
It was not. A “big” score wasn’t needed for this film, the visuals and lines pretty much took care of everything. The score here is small compared to the big boom-crash-bang scores of today’s summer blockbusters, but it wonderfully compliments those scenes in the film where some musical pull adds to the whole.
When Barry scored the film, he was at the height of his popularity, known best, perhaps for his music for the James Bond films, though the fine scores he produced for earlier 1960’s films Zulu and Born Free were known and respected.
The musical style of the soundtrack is similar to layers of watercolor paint, applied one over the other, building the image, giving it more and more depth. The main theme is used throughout, with best effect in the cue “To Rome”.
Barry was left by the director and producer to compose whatever would be appropriate for the film, Barry decided write a dark, menacing, and gothic score, a style which cannot be classified with either his early jazzy or later lush music. He captures the sounds of the Middle Ages through the use of polyphony and nods to the domination of the Catholic Church.
Barry responds by using the sounds of Church bells in several cues. While the bells themselves can only be seen in a handful of scenes, the stomping and arguing that continues between the Royal Family in the bowels of their dirty castle is always highlighted by that same sound. Sometimes they toll in the distance, a grim accompaniment to the trumpet solos throughout, and sometimes they chime in with full mass. It is said that when Martin Poll, the film’s Producer, first heard Barry’s approach to the film, his eyes welled with emotion. The more memorable half of Barry’s work for The Lion in Winter, however, is that which gained him the Oscar for his efforts: his brooding representation of the Middle Ages. This score is often classified as a choral soundtrack, and rightfully so.
The original score was first released 1990 by Varèse Sarabande and then more widely in 1995 by Sony Legacy/Columbia (shown above). The sound is surprisingly good on these.
In 2001, Silva Screen released a re-recorded Lion in Winter score by the City of Prague Philharmonic and Crouch End Festival Chorus, under the masterful conducting of Barry-expert Nic Raine. That album (shown at right) contains the complete score, including the additional cues of “Richard’s Joust/Geoffrey’s Battle” and “Fanfare for Philip/The Great Hall Feast,” both of which appear relative early in the film, and the latter of which being a very enjoyable addition to hear on its own. The Silva product has the extra incentive of a handful of re-recorded cues from Mary, Queen of Scots, a comparatively mellow, but elegant score by Barry during the same general period. While missing a few key cues from that score (most notably the “Journey to England” cue), it is refreshing to hear it performed in the digital medium.
As for The Lion in Winter, you can’t lose. Not only should you watch the film, but if you appreciate Barry’s strong music for the picture, then you’d be well served by purchasing one or even both albums. The score is an enduring classic.