The DuchessThe world of musical composition for films is all but dominated by men. But since scoring Privileged – a small BBC film starring a then-unknown Hugh Grant – in 1982, composer Rachel Portman has been steadily working her craft, and working her way into bigger – and better – films. In 1996 she became the first female composer to win an Academy Award for her outstanding score to the film Emma. She has since gone on to score such films as Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, The Manchurian Candidate, Mona Lisa Smile, Chocolat and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, as well as Nicholas Nickleby and Infamous with Emma director Douglas McGrath. Her latest work is for the Keira Knightley vehicle The Duchess, based on the story of early “it girl” the Duchess of Devonshire.

And the sophisticated music Portman has created for this film suits her Oscar-winning persona perfectly. There is a stately melancholy to the The Duchess and Portman’s extensive use of the violin serves the sound well. Most of the music here is devoted to heavy drama, though Portman manages to stay on the subtle side of the emotions, never allowing her pieces to become heavy-handed or overdone. Many of the track titles reflect the rather bleak tone of the music – look at “No Mood For Conversation,” “Mistake of Your Life” and “Some Things Too Late, Others Too Early” for examples. That’s not to say that this is a depressing album – in fact, even parts of “Mistake Of Your Life” reflect a hidden optimism and the buoyant “Six Years Later” even comes off downright cheerful. But the thunder in the background of “I Think Of You All The Time” betrays the unhappy reality that things will most likely not end happily for this royal celebrity.

In this world, even love scenes come off emotionally reserved - in “Gee and Grey Make Love” and the following “Gee an Grey Together In Bath” there are slight hints towards passion, but these quickly fade into more removed and darker tones, which then bleed into almost whimsical chord transgressions. “Bath” ends on an upsurge, but it’s still interesting how Portman allows her music to keep the emotions at arm’s length. Most of the music is of this nature, except for the darkly driven “Rape” which is heavy with bass and rising crescendos. Only a few other sections of music – most notably the final moments in “Gee Give Up Baby” with its swelling of violins – deliver this sort of urgency and uptick in tempo.

Rachel Portman already has one Oscar on her mantel, and with work like this she may be looking towards another.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: A well-crafted and stately collection of tracks
Stay Away if: You’re looking for a driving, action-filled score
If you only buy one track, make it this one: “Adagio From String Quartet Opus 1 No. 3 In D Major” – six minutes of beauty

To purchase the score for The Duchess, visit Amazon

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