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Rick W
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The Tattooist of Auschwitz

While Heather Morris’s novelisation of the memoirs of Holocaust survivor Lale Sokolov has not been without its controversy (the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre has criticised it for some factual inaccuracy), it is an extraordinary love story set against the backdrop of evil and I have found the tv adaptation to be harrowing and powerful. I think it is vitally important that these stories keep being told for generations to come.

Sokolov is played with sensitivity by Jonah Hauer-King – who looks uncannily like a young Mark Rylance – while the older version of him, portrayed passing on his memories to writer Morris, comes courtesy of an exceptional performance by Harvey Keitel. It is shocking – over and over, it is shocking – and yet contains moments of genuine human beauty whose contrast with mankind’s most shameful acts makes them seem all the more touching.

Kara Talve and Hans Zimmer

It can’t be at all easy for any composer to find the right tone for this sort of material – overdo any sentimentality and the criticism will flood in, go too hard on emphasising the beautiful moments and risk being accused of smoothing over the terror, treat it anything like a horror movie and then risk losing the small-scale triumph over adversity that ultimately is what plays out for specific characters while most of those around them are wiped out. The credited composers, Hans Zimmer and Kara Talve, both have personal connections to the time – Zimmer’s mother fled the Nazi regime shortly before the outbreak of the second world war, while Talve’s grandmother spent the war hiding with a piano teacher in France.

Poignantly, the very piano Talve’s grandmother used at that time is used in the score (it has a characterful, truly distinctive sound). Zimmer said of the approach to creating the music that he wanted to make it seem like an alien world – one that nobody would ever want to visit – and this lends it a very slightly detached feel which works very well indeed and avoids all the pitfalls mentioned previously.

The highlights however come in the scoring of those shimmers of light. The main theme, “Whatever It Takes”, underscores most of these in one form or another. Its simple, unmistakably Hebraic central melody is affecting – whether heard on solo violin, cello, the old piano and even in a vocal version by no less than Barbra Streisand it is powerful and direct. The other most powerful device in the score is a kind of (presumably) electronic chime which is used to horrifying effect to signify deaths – if you hear it out of context without having seen the show you may be tempted to think it is anachronistic, but it’s actually quite extraordinarily powerful in context – it appears throughout the score, and proves the notion that sometimes the most simple ideas are the best.

Necessarily – and obviously – the album can be an uncomfortable listen at times. “Not Long Now” is harrowing – the familiar violin transported to an instrument of terror, those chimes of death dotted hauntingly throughout. “I Will Find You” contrasts screeching violin with a calm cello as tragedy unfolds. But you need those moments – for the shimmers of light to appear so bright, they have to be there. The whole story has to be told, and Zimmer and Talve tell it so well. It is unflinching in its portrayal of evil, gently and entirely unsentimentally celebratory when it can portray beauty. It’s an impressive piece of work.

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