Draw on Sweet Night: A Renaissance Music Video
‘Music hath made us play fellows,’ retorts John Wilbye to the insinuation that he and his patroness have indulged in extra-musical relations; this line seems an apposite summation of Tony Britten’s Draw on Sweet Night, which screened to York’s City Screen yesterday evening. It is perhaps more appropriate to approach this work expecting a modern-day Renaissance music video, embellished with dynamic cinematography, rather than a film that strives for cinematic prowess alone. At its essence, ‘renaissance’ means rebirth and Britten’s delivery of the era’s music into our modern world has proved capable of maintaining its renowned lust for rejuvenation.
This Elizabethan drama depicts the life of madrigal John Wilbye and his array of promiscuous encounters. A film that stands out from other ironically sterile Renaissance dramas, this successfully reinvigorates the epochal music into a spectacle accessible to the modern-day viewer. The film’s residing message is that Renaissance music still has a place in the modern world, exploring emotions that will endure indefinitely within the spectrum of human experience, regardless of the era. The drama is interjected with collage-like sequences of I Fagiolini recording the soundtrack in a studio and modern day love affairs that mirror those of John Wilbye’s world. These are perhaps the most enjoyable moments of the film, accented by a sharp, staccato-like editing that stresses the surprising timelessness of the madrigals themselves.
The plot serves as a strong skeleton for the film, providing a supportive base for the soundtrack that takes precedence over the cinematography. The characters themselves, although perhaps in need of more substance, give the music opportunities to effectively narrate the action. The acting is competent and functional, with Sophia Di Martino’s portrayal of Lady Mary Darcy dominating as the most dynamic and intriguing role. The actors seem to be slightly impeded by the Elizabethan language, with the dialogue often becoming somewhat static and, at times, contrived. However, these slight shortcomings do not prevent the structure from delivering a strong enough stage upon which the soundtrack can flourish.
The band’s name, I Fagiolini, translates as ‘Green Beans’ in Italian – a playful reference to the ensemble’s ‘alternative lifestyle of knitted yoghurt and whole-food pullovers, living on a diet of nothing but pulses and beans’ back when it formed in 1986. This is a good indicator of the joviality that should be expected when approaching this film. It is a play-date between soundtrack and cinematography, a work where image and sound collaborate to form a successful crescendo, and where the art of Renaissance madrigals ends up on top.
As always, the City Screen in York proved a welcoming venue, with an atmosphere that keenly embraces film- and theatre-lovers alike. With friendly staff and a large selection of drinks and snacks, this is a Picturehouse that lovingly and dutifully serves as a dynamic hub for the arts and culture in York. Keep an eye out for more of their upcoming screenings; there are plenty to choose from, including screenings of theatre, opera and ballet.