CROMWELL. A VERY BRITISH EPIC.

Cromwell Soundtrack art.

In 1970 we saw a wide range of motion pictures released, these encompassed many genres, and it was I suppose a testament to filmmaking, writers, and filmmakers during this period that we had such a variety of subject matter showing in cinemas around the globe. Soldier Blue, Five East Pieces, Vampire Lovers, Scrooge etc being just some of the more commercial delights that were being shown in that year. What is interesting is that there were just two pictures that could be called epics because of the scale of the production or indeed the respective periods in which they were set, the epic by this time was losing even more of its appeal and the Biblical epic that had been produced by Hollywood had certainly fallen from grace with audiences, who had already forsaken it for the gadgetry and thrills of James Bond and macho anti heroism of Clint Eastwood as the The Man With No Name in the Dollar movies, to name but two in the mid to late 1960’s. Audiences were wanting more action themed films to entertain them, and supervillains and shootouts ruled by the time the 1970’s dawned. The movie Waterloo was one epic production that did manage to cause more than a stir of interest with audiences, probably because of the spectacle and the hype that surrounded the movie, then there was Cromwell, which too was a movie that generated ripples of mild reaction with audiences old and young.

The latter attempted to chart the later life of Oliver Cromwell and his involvement in the English civil war when parliamentary forces eventually led by Cromwell fought against King Charles the first and the Royalist forces on the side of the Crown. The war and events leading to it and the aftermath of the conflict eventually led to Cromwell becoming Lord Protector of England from 1653 to 1658.

*King Charles A democracy, Mr. Cromwell, was a Greek drollery based on the foolish notion that there are extraordinary possibilities in very ordinary people.


*Oliver Cromwell: It is the ordinary people, my Lord, who would most readily lay down their lives in defence of your realm. It is simply that being ordinary that they would prefer to be asked and not told.

The film based upon historical facts was written by Ken Hughes, who also directed the picture. The film was produced by movie mogul Irvin Allen, and starred Richard Harris as Cromwell with Sir Alec Guinness portraying marvelously the out of touch and ill-advised Monarch Charles Stuart. The supporting cast too was impressive with Robert Morley, Timothy Dalton, Dorothy Tutin, Patrick Wymark, Frank Finlay, Charles Gray, Michael Jayston, and Nigel Stock all giving solid and believable performances. At the time of its release the film received negative reviews, this was mainly because of the historical inaccuracies that it contained. But at the same time the production was applauded and found favour with the same critics who had panned it, this time praising the performances given by Harris and Guinness.

*Oliver Cromwell: The King is not England, and England is not the King!

The score was by British composer Frank Cordell, who had previously scored the historical epic Khartoum four years previous in 1966. In the same year as Cromwell scored the WWll drama Hell Boats, but Cromwell was totally different, and required a more complex and thought-out score that was in keeping with the period in which it was set. The composer did not keep it a secret that he had several problems creating a score that was deemed to be suitable for the production, but his efforts and finished soundtrack were greeted with positive accolades from critics and cinema goers alike.

Composer Frank Cordell.

It was nominated for an Oscar, and a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA. The composer’s stern, somewhat dark, brooding, and robust score lent much to the film’s images and storyline, punctuating and underlining the battle and action scenes and also supporting the wordy script without being intrusive. Cordell’s music seemed to add weight to the hopeless situation that the common people were being faced with, as in being governed firstly an uncaring and out of touch Monarch who took advice from his wife who herself was not at all in tune with the people of England, mainly because she was French and also a Catholic, and then by a corrupt and manipulative parliament after the King was tried for treason and found guilty and finally beheaded. Cordell fashioned a woeful, and foreboding work, in places which perfectly mirrored the sullen persona of the central character Cromwell and his dedication to his faith, country and ordinary people, Cordell’s music also took on the role of being deeply personal, intimate, and spiritual as it accompanied Cromwell.

The opening theme for the movie begins with a God-fearing sounding fanfare performed on horns, that acts as the introduction to a choral work, “Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord. He hath put down the mighty from their seat. He hath exalted the humble”.

 *Oliver Cromwell.We need men with fire in their bowels who fear the Lord but not the enemy”.

The score also contained numerous martial sounding interludes as in The New Army, in which the composer enlists percussion, and timpani, interspersed by brass stabs and flourishes and builds the composition gradually until it reaches its peak and fades for a while then returns with a vengeance with driving timpani, brass and male voices, singing “Rejoice in the Lord”, the composer then further enhances these with rasping, driving and daunting brass performances that are bolstered by strings which are further supported by trills from woodwind.

*Oliver Cromwell: O Lord, Thou know Est how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me.

Battle of Naseby too contains this martial musical style and robust sound, with a hint of maybe a hunting type theme with horns and strings calling the roundheads to do battle and charge at the ranks of the Royalists. “Keep your Faith in God, and keep your powder dry”, says Cromwell as the battle begins. The cue is the longest on the score, with a duration of almost eight minutes, the becoming the personas of the opposing armies with the composer creating a tense and desperate sounding piece that perfectly supports the desperate fight that is being acted out on screen. The Royalists initially thinking that victory will be an easy task after finding Cromwell’s army unsupported by Lord Manchester’s army and outnumbering them three to one, but the music also underlines the conviction and determination of Cromwell’s newly trained Roundheads as they charge and probe the Royalist’s ranks and eventually emerge victorious. The music has a triumphant aura as the cue draws to its conclusion, and then it alters to underline the defeat of the King as he leaves the field of battle.

As the composition comes to its final moments it segues into a heartbreaking yet positive and powerful arrangement of the scores central phrase “Rejoice in the Lord” but this time it is performed by soprano, adding a poignancy and sense of melancholy and desolation as it enhances the scene where Cromwell discovers his eldest son has been killed in the battle. It also closes the first half of the film bringing it to its intermission. This is a score that is supportive to the maximum, at times becoming complex and having moments that are withdrawn. The composer engaging and identifying musically with every character and every scenario, fashioning intimate, gracious, regal, and reverent sounding themes for King Charles after he is defeated. But all the time maintaining a somber side to the proceedings. I would say that Cromwell the score is probably one of my own personal favourites from the 1970’s. And one of the last great film scores from what was to be known as the Silver Age, and it’s also a British movie. It’s a film that I have always been drawn too, but there again I have always been interested in history from any period.

KEN HUGHES

From the music for CROMWELL, to the film itself.  Director Ken Hughes originally began working on the script for the movie back in 1961. Richard Harris read it and liked it and showed an interest in portraying Cromwell, but financiers did not consider him a big enough star at the time to finance the film. They wanted American actor Charlton Heston, but Hughes did not think he was appropriate. Heston also recalled in his diaries that he declined the part. Hughes wanted to get Richard Burton on board, but Burton was not interested in even reading the script. It was not until 1967 that Irvin Allen had John Briley re-work and re-write Hughes’s original script and he was hoping to have filmmaker Peter Hall direct the proposed movie. Allen was also hopeful that actor Paul Scofiled would take on the role of Charles the first and Albert Finney would agree to play Cromwell. Columbia pictures were going to finance the production and filming was due to begin in the summer of 1968, which was when Ken Hughes was working on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The deal with Columbia fell through and it was not until 1969, that Irvin Allen announced that Hughes would direct the movie. Hughes eventually got financial backing from Columbia, who after an initial outlay of just over 600,000 Dollars began to have second thoughts about the movie, but thankfully they revised the decision to withdraw and committed to the picture, the budget for the movie started at six million dollars and eventually reached the total of nine million dollars. A lot of which was spent of set and costume design, a replica of parliament square being constructed at Shepperton studios, most of the movie was filmed in England apart that is from the battle scenes which were shot in Spain.

The original cut of the film ran for three hours and fifteen minutes, but Hughes decided to trim t down resulting in the final cut of the movie running for two hours and twenty minutes, the director said later in interview that he felt Cromwell was the best thing he had done. The film won the Oscar for costume design (Vittorio Nino Novarese) and was nominated in the same category at the BAFTA’s in the UK.  Cromwell was one of the most popular movies at the British box office in 1970.   

Oliver Cromwell was a devout Puritan, a country squire, magistrate and former member of Parliament. The King’s policies, including the enclosing of common land for the use of wealthy landowners and the introduction of catholic rituals into the Church of England became increasingly infuriating to many, including Cromwell. In fact, Charles regarded himself as a devout Anglican, permitting his French Queen to practice Roman Catholicism in private but forbidding her to bring up the young Prince of Wales in that faith. Cromwell planned to take his family to the New World, but, on the eve of their departure, he is persuaded by friends to stay and resume a role in politics. That is the initial opening of the movie and the beginning of its plot. What followed was a combination of historical fact and poetic license on behalf of the writer and director. Whatever your opinion of the movie, there is very little doubt that it has remained a firm favourite with cinema goers of that period and has also gained more admirers as it has aged gracefully.  

Cromwell was one of the most powerful political figures and military commanders in Britain, and actively continued commanding armies in Ireland, Scotland, and England, and involving himself in government. Although rejecting a suggestion that he should be crowned king (after much deliberation), he was quite willing to take the title of ‘Lord Protector’ and govern England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales until his death in 1658.

MMI© 2022.  * Denotes quote from the film Cromwell. (c)1970.

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