Haunting, Mournful Horns in Netflix’s The Crown

Whatever you might think of The Crown, the big-budget Netflix show about the royals of Britain, there’s no denying it’s got a cracking score. In the first season, it fell decidedly within the Zimmer camp. Gregson-Williams’ score wouldn’t have been out of place in Inception or Blue Planet. Sweeping strings alongside tasteful synths with a certain kind of yearning chord progression*. Gorgeous stuff.

But cut to this last season, and though there’ll always be the hint of a Zimmer-style staccato, choppy, subtle yet bright-in-the-best-way synth, now we have Phipps, bringing his sturdy British harmonies and… mournful French horn. 

The French Horn here, with its slow, stately simple theme – up a fourth, back down a fourth – oh my, it gets me every time. Slow and staid, as befits the nonsense of a stolid relic like the British royal system, but also gently mournful and longing… wishing for what was – perhaps the glory of a bygone era. 

Along with the stillness-with-a-twinkle-in-her-eye of Imelda Staunton’s Queen, this music pulls its weight in what could otherwise be a tired, plodding, pedantic story. Along with Dominic West’s Charles – sympathetic, earnest, naive and desperate – this music makes you realise the point at which you’re supposed to feel something rather than just passively watching the monarchy slowly crumble under its own sagging weight.

Let’s get specific, shall we: there’s a moment when Wills goes to find Charles to make peace after the turmoil and upset of Diana’s death. Beware SPOILERS AHEAD

And we see, from a distance – the POV of an elderly Phillip – as Charles turns around to see Wills approach. We can’t really hear anything that’s been said. There’s a bit of a conversation but it’s irrelevant to what we’re here to see, what we’re here to feel. Wills just goes for the hug and the look of genuine, subtle happiness on West’s face is quite sweet and blah blah blah… and then that haunting, mournful solo horn kicks in.

Oh. My. It’s so lovely. So pointed yet so subtle. Here it is, saying, look, look, these are just real people, just like you and me, they have feelings too, they need human contact, and sympathy and understanding, just like you and me. Look! Look at the father watching his son be the father, those past memories when Charles was just a boy (and remember the brilliant turn of Matt Smith – aka The 11th Doctor to you and me – as Phillip in series gone by) and on and on it goes…

Whilst that lusty, distant French Horn plays, I believe it. I believe.

For that tiny moment, Phipps with his up-a-fourth-down-a-fourth has turned this steely-hearted, anti-monarchist’s heart to mush. No, you shed a tear.

I’m over it now though. In case you were worried.

*this is the sort of thing I was talking about:

Inception:  Hans Zimmer – Time (Official Audio)

The Crown: Duck Shoot (From around 0:51)

Do you hear the similarity?

If you’re interested in that sort of thing – there’s a nice breakdown of the latter chord progression from Ali Jamieson here: The Crown – Duck Shoot (Rupert Gregson-Williams) – Zeroes and Ones 

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