Thursday, 23 August 2012

Atonement - Elegy for Dunkirk

Dario Marianelli
Despite my love of film music, it is not often that I come across a modern film score that is truly moving, as they usually consist of the typical phrases made up of endless suspensions and pauses without any melody. However, when I watched 'Atonement' for the first time, I was struck particularly by the music that accompanied the scene that saw the British soldiers waiting at Dunkirk titled 'Elegy for Dunkirk'. The music for the film was composed by Dario Marianelli and performed by the English Chamber Orchestra - as well as Caroline Dale playing the solo cello. Marianelli won three awards for the score including Film Score of the Year, Best Original Score, and Film Music Composition of the Year for 'Elegy for Dunkirk'.

A still from the scene at Dunkirk
In the film, the scene is about five minutes in length, and has no speech - only a sweeping shot of the entire beach and the various soldiers that are there. The music is made up of a string orchestra and solo cello, and halfway through we hear the entry of a group of soldiers singing the hymn: 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'. Not only is the music very powerful because of the hymn, which describes the strength of God - but also because of the intensely unexpected and heartbreaking harmonies that run over the top. For anyone who knows the hymn, they will notice that the harmony is completely different. However, I believe this to be an extremely effective piece of film composition because of the irony of the harmony and hymn placed together. The words of the hymn read:

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace, The beauty of Thy peace
Breathe through the heats of our desire, Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm! O still, small voice of calm!

The score for the scene can be heard here:

The actual scene itself is more effective than the music alone because you can see the total destruction and bleak background of the beach itself. As well as this, there are the added shouts and snippets of conversation heard by the soldiers as the main characters pass them by. I consider this to be one of the most poignant and touching war-scenes I have ever seen - and the film is definitely worth watching. Here is the extracted scene from the film:


  1. Beautifully written. You capture the essence of the emotions I was unable to describe while listening to the piece.

  2. Without doubt one of the most poignant and heartbreaking scenes of any film I have ever seen. So few of us from any nation,have sacrificed that much at all ever in our lives. Just breaks me up.