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For want of a true narrative to connect the scant biographical details of madrigal composer John Wilbye (1574– 1638), Tony Britten’s film Draw on Sweet Night, conjectures a life of passion and womanising. The composer of the title madrigal worked for the recusant Kytson family at Hengrave Hall by Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. When Lady Kytson died, he inherited a sheep farm and moved in with her daughter. That much is known. Britten, who is writer, director, producer and part-composer, imagines sexual relations with both mother and daughter (fortunately not simultaneously) as well as with the wife-to-be of fellow composer George Kirbye and a passing visitor who sings and composes herself. There is some confusion over which, if any, of these partners is most dear to Wilbye, while a political subplot suggests her ladyship is trying to extract from him a Latin mass. Another has the action flitting between then and now, the present enacted by members of the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini as they perform the soundtrack comprising both Wilbye’s madrigals and Britten’s dissonant contemporary response to them. Britten’s dialogue in clever cod-Elizabethan has no depth. As for the cast, Mark Arends’ serious Wilbye seems an unlikely stud and the love-scenes with the four females, Doon Mackichan, Ania Sowinski, Sophia di Martino and Milanka Brooks are unconvincing if not slightly embarrassing. It is beautifully shot at Kentwell Hall, as the real Grade 1-listed Hengrave Hall has been turned into a modern wedding venue.

Rick Jones Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing