Harry Gregson-Williams Kingdom of Heaven: Original Soundtrack Review

Released 2005.  

BBC Review

...some good tunes, a few great moments and a lot of fighting spirit.

Morag Reavley 2005

A consort of viols, an early music choir and a hurdy-gurdy, all mixed up with the pulsing synthesizers, electric cello and the drum loops of your typical big-budget Hollywood action score: Kingdom of Heaven, the soundtrack for Ridley Scott'sCrusader epic, ought to be simply terrible.

Somehow, it's not. In fact, it's really quite interesting. Harry Gregson-Williams, with previous credits ranging from Shrek to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, has created a musical landscape that suggests both the sophistication and the bloody machismo of the Crusades.

Set in the twelfth century, the film depicts a clash whose resonances extend to the present, when Balian, a French blacksmith, joins his father in the Crusades. Capturing the cultural tension are two distinct but equally complex musical traditions Christian devotional music counterpointed by gaudy Arab dances and searing laments.

Gregson-Williams sets out to achieve a modicum of authenticity beyond simply flicking the synthesizer into 'medieval mode'. Alongside the sweeping strings of the London Session Orchestra are the 123-voice Bach Choir (some esoteric medieval numerology going on, maybe), a couple of early music ensembles and a band of Turkish musicians from Istanbul.

It is the Arabic themes which have most impact, perhaps because it is a tradition rarely heard in mainstream cinema. Pieces such as the jaunty "Ibelin" feature period instruments oud, kanoon and kamancha while "Terms" and "Light of Life", on the other hand, feature supremely mournful Arab soloists.

Most soundtracks set in the Middle Ages tend towards Clannad-esque mysticism. Kingdom of Heaven is refreshingly the reverse: muscular, dynamic and magnificently belligerent, swelling with tribal drums and pop synthesizers. Strong set pieces such as "The Battle of Kerak" succeed in turning early music into a war cry. There's a curious credit in the liner notes to Frankie Goes to Hollywood; if you listen closely enough you can spot the extract from "Two Tribes" in "Better Man".

As the film has been panned for its pomposity, few cinema goers are likely to hear the score, which is rather a shame. Kingdom of Heaven has some good tunes, a few great moments and a lot of fighting spirit.

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