Franklyn was writer/director Gerald McMorrow’s attempt at a cerebral fantasy film examining the nature of faith with a parallel universe story splitting its time between a fundamentalist dystopia called Meanwhile City and contemporary London. McMorrow was able to attract a top cast including Eva Green, Ryan Phillippe, and Bernard Hill, and the movie presented a very striking aesthetic, but it had trouble connecting with moviegoers in its initial run in cinemas (perhaps due to the film’s off-putting title and lack of any actual character named Franklyn). It received generally good reviews, though, and eventually eked out an audience on home and streaming video.
For British composer Joby Talbot, Franklyn was a dream assignment, one that he actively sought out after reading Gerald McMorrow’s screenplay. Talbot had a good roster of projects for film, television, and the concert hall under his belt by 2008, but his feature film scores had been mostly low-key since his arrival on the scene The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 2005. Projects like Arctic Tale (2005), Penelope (2006), and Son of Rambow (2007) had kept Talbot in multiplexes, but he hadn’t reached out to the same sci-fi/fantasy cult audience since Hitchhiker’s. Franklyn would prove to be that project.
For the alternate world of Meanwhile City, Talbot came up with an incredibly strong theme in the mold of his most awestruck pieces from Hitchhiker’s and Arctic Tale. Heard at the album’s outset (and the movie’s grand establishing shot) in “Gonna Kill a Man,” it’s a sweeping and romantic gem, with full-orchestra undulations against swirling piano arpeggios with subtle electronic enhancements. Wherever it appears, from the introductory “Meanwhile City” to the redemptive “Finale Part 2” and “End Credits,” Talbot’s main theme captivates. It’s one of the strongest film music statements of 2008 by any measure.
The score is essentially monothematic, with twinkling arrangements and fragments of that main theme frequently appearing at the beginning and end of Silva’s generous 50-minute CD and download. Piano and harp are particularly foremost in the fantasy atmosphere in many places, with the former for the character of Emilia and the latter representing the character of Esser. Whenever Talbot is using his Meanwhile City theme, motifs based on it, or conjuring a dark fantasy atmosphere similar to that in the concluding parts of Hitchhiker’s or the most troubled parts of Arctic Tale, the album soars. Talbot uses a few more interesting devices in places as well: ticking clocks as rhythmic instruments and jaunty Middle Eastern pastiche in “Faith Registration Center.”
Its monothematic nature is unfortunately a bit of a two-edged sword as far as Franklyn‘s listenability is concerned, though. Whenever the music turns to action (“The Catacombs”) or suspense (“David Bursts in”), the music is discordant, textual, and colorless. It’s doubtless an excellent support for the film, but can’t do much apart from it. There’s no really satisfying mix of the powerful theme and fantasy atmosphere with the more ambient portions; in “David Bursts In” and the lengthy “Finale Part 1,” where the two styles are places side-by-side, they don’t gel and the disconnect is at times distracting.
Franklyn still merits a recommendation based on its incredible main theme and the compelling fantasy atmosphere throughout parts of the album, but it’s disappointing that the score’s action and suspense cues simply can’t live up to that standard. The highlights, though, are not to be missed. Talbot has remained more active in writing for live venues since, with no further ventures into big-screen fantasy, but has scored the occasional film like 2013’s Closed Circuit