BY THE WINTER SEA – Jesper Hansen

Original Review by Alan Rogers

A short film set during World War II, director Philips Stevens’ By The Winter Sea follows the progress of Ada (Helen Victor) who leaves her home in London to join the Women’s Land Army, to work on a farm on the Lincolnshire coast. She soon realises that the life of a “Land Girl” is not the one portrayed on the posters but with the help of fellow Londoner and Land Girl Jean (Sarah Whitehouse), she eventually falls in love with her new life. Danish composer Jesper Hansen continues his association with the Lincolnshire-based film production company Red Dog Film and provides a sparse but tender score based around a small ensemble of fiddle and piano with embellishments (e.g., harp, snare drum). The first main component to the score is an Celtic/folk-inspired theme played on solo fiddle (“Main Title – The Journey”). First heard over shots of a bleak grey coast of the North Sea, the theme has a mournful quality about it and its appearance of the theme at various points in the film suggests an influence of the new life (represented by the sea) on the characters even when there is no visual reference to the sea. In the cue “Arrival To Lincolnshire”, for example, Ada’s waiting to be picked up for the final leg of her journey to the farm where she has been stationed and the appearance of the solo fiddle when she gets into the car seems to signal the “point of no return” for her adventure from town to countryside.

“Arrival To Lincolnshire” also features a lovely theme for solo piano. Constructed in such a way as to give the sense of innocence to Ada, this theme – and the use of solo piano in more hesitant ideas and motifs (e.g., “First Day of Work”) – mirrors Ada’s journey from the city to rural Lincolnshire as well as her arrival to and settling down in her new and unfamiliar environment. As Ada’s confidence builds the piano line then becomes more animated, determined and happier (“Home By The Winter Sea”). The juxtaposition of both the piano and solo fiddle in the score echoes the various experiences of Ada as she comes to terms with her new surroundings as well as her inner turmoil during her initial doubts and subsequent embracing of her new life. This acceptance of her situation is then reflected in the score by the end of the film as the solo fiddle (and the sea) becomes associated with Ada.

The majority of the score is based around both the piano and fiddle motifs, and the tenderness of the music builds a comforting feel to the film where it seems nothing particularly bad can happen. The sparing use of harp and the tinklings of what sounds like a celesta or glockenspiel further enhances this atmosphere. Hansen’s able to suggest this idealised world to the story that is, at the same time, rooted in the real world. But there are passages of ominous foreboding and dissonance in Hansen’s score when darker influences appear to threaten Ada’s world. Ada’s confidence is threatened when she first steps foot off the train and ventures into her uncertain future (“Arrival To Lincolnshire”), the prospect of German invasion (“Germans!”) and the unknown consequences of an accident (“Home By The Winter Sea”) and the use of sustained, low-register tones and sickening sliding glissandi highlight these threats and offer brief counterpoint to the pervading innocence.

Based upon a series of letters taken from the book Lincolnshire Women At War, By The Winter Sea is a film made on behalf of the Lincolnshire Coastal Country Park to help promote local history (which includes being shown in local schools). This, together with the short running time, leads the film to paint a picture of life for Ada in very broad brush strokes – Ada’s posh accent, Jean’s Famous Five-styled behaviour and undiminished enthusiasm, the amateurish nature of the Home Guard – are all familiar devices. Hansen’s score also reflects the “broad brush stroke” approach with clearly defined musical motifs and themes for Ada, her new environment as well as the threats to her new life that easily supports the drama. This is not suggest that the composer’s score a bad score. The composer’s music adds much to the story to be told and in an easily accessible way (though slightly bumbling tone for the “The Home Guard” is a bit off-putting as it relies too heavily on the stereotypical portrayal of The Home Guard in British comedy’s Dad’s Army). As with Hansen’s score for Red Dog Film’s previous film Goodie, his score for By The Winter Sea is a great asset to the film and is well worth hearing (though it is currently unavailable at the time of writing of this review).

Rating: ***

  1. Main Theme – The Journey (1:42)
  2. Arrival To Lincolnshire (2:23)
  3. First Day of Work (1:46)
  4. Germans! (0:24)
  5. The Home Guard (1:01)
  6. Home By The Winter Sea (3:09)
  7. Ada’s Mo (2:10)
  8. Arrival To Lincolnshire (Alternate) (2:23)

Running Time: 15:01

Unreleased (2012)

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