Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Churchill by Lorne Balfe (Review)

posted Jun 28, 2017, 10:38 AM by Kaya Savas

Biopics can border on being supremely melodramatic or actually offer an intriguing insight into an iconic human being that has made a mark on our world in some fashion. Winston Churchill is probably one the most studied historical figures due to his impact as prime minister during WWII and of course more of his controversial views. Biopics are great ways for filmmakers to take a dramatic approach at exploring larger than life figures, and Churchill has been depicted in many films throughout the years. This film has been criticized by many fact checkers for getting a lot wrong and stumbling the approach of the storytelling. Be that as it may, one can’t deny the success of the score that Lorne Balfe put together to give us a portrait of Churchill. I like to call scores to biopics “portrait scores”, because in most cases they aim at painting an intimate portrait of the main character. And in terms of portrait scores, Balfe’s score is perfect in every way even though it has to navigate the muddled storytelling of the film.

The score for Churchill is somber and subtle in its approach. This does a fantastic job of pulling the audience into the the emotions of the story and the performances. Since most biopics are truly about seeing a world class actor become totally transformed into the figure he or she is portraying, the acting is usually what takes center stage. That is no different here, where Brian Cox completely steals the spotlight as Winston Churchill. The score is very mature and poised and it never attempts to steal the spotlight. Instead we get these simple melodies that feel as organic and human as possible. There is so much beautiful craftsmanship here as the music paints the picture we as an audience need to feel. It helps us get behind the iconic imagery of Churchill with his hat and cigar and get more into the human side of the story. Churchill is always depicted as this larger than life character, but the score is anything but. We get a sense of completion with the way Balfe bookends the score with vocals, and the last track “Purpose” is such a perfect finishing touch. I normally say a score is only as good as the film allows it to be. Sure there are scores that make better listening experiences, but what truly matters is how it functions with the picture. Here, Lorne manages to flesh out a character so precisely and with such rich emotions that it leaves a lasting impact. It's a mini masterwork of scoring in its own right.

Perfection is subjective, and the film is flawed as a whole. But if you examine exactly what the score is doing in terms of painting a portrait and taking us on an emotional journey, there is some sort of perfection there. Lorne is able to find this balance of melancholic beauty here and it strikes deep yet is so subtle. Usually a film’s faults can bleed into the score’s structure, but since this is a portrait score that picked its moments carefully it seems to have been immune from all that. Churchill is some of the finest storytelling to come from Lorne Balfe by painting this incredibly human and incredibly organic emotional arc from start to finish. It keeps the film a afloat and accents Brian Cox’s performance perfectly. You’ll notice that every review you read will likely criticize the film as a whole but commend Brian Cox’s performance, and you can thank this score’s wonderful approach and execution for that. This is some of Lorne Balfe's most restrained yet deeply affecting scores, and when matched with Brian Cox's performance it really resonates deeply.