The music of British composer Rachel Portman has for many years now been a mainstay of cinema both British and American. Portman began her career as a composer by scoring mainly TV projects and soon progressed to writing music for the silver screen. Her style or sound is quite unique as it remains over ally and quintessentially English, but also has to it a underlying sound that can be likened to maybe the Hollywood style as in richly thematic and romantic.
She has over the years produced so many gorgeously enriching and hauntingly beautiful works, as in The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and more recently Godmothered for Disney. Portman was born in Haslemere in the county of Surrey, England. She was educated at Charterhouse and became interested in music from an early age, with her first attempts at composition being undertaken in her early teens. After she completed her days at school Portman went onto study music at Worcester College in Oxford. It was whilst studying here that she first became interested in writing music for films and started to experiment by scoring student movies and writing music for various theatre productions. Her career commenced with the writing of incidental music for mainly BBC drama productions, and she also scored a handful of films for Channel four in the UK, which included Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, as well as Mike Leighs Four Days in July and the acclaimed Oranges are not the only Fruit. She has also worked on an opera The Little Prince, which was later adapted and made into a musical. Her success as a composer is due to her obvious gift for melody and her ability to adapt to any genre of film and create thematic but supportive music for any scenario. It is difficult not to be enchanted and engulfed by the composers wonderfully lilting and affecting music, she adds tender musical undercurrents to any production and enhances and laces each project with a fragile and delicate musical air, that is not just film music but is music that is integral and important to any storyline.
One of her better-known scores is for The Cider House Rules (1999), which is beyond beguiling and above enchanting, the central melody straight away captures the audiences ear and also sets the scene beautifully for the movies storyline, becoming central and so supportive of the main characters, relaying a fragility, vulnerability, and also a romantic atmosphere, that once heard is never easily forgotten. The theme which is a simple one binds the score and the movies story together adding poignancy, emotion, and drama to the proceedings. The affecting central theme is stunningly expressive, and the composer utilizes it and variations of it throughout, to elevate, underline and totally support.
The movie was directed by Lasse Hamilton, and starred Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, and Kieran Culkin. The story was written by John Irvin and is a touching drama set in an orphanage in Maine, where a doctor (Caine) trains and mentors Homer Wells (Maguire) and follows him after he leaves the orphanage. Portman’s score graces and ingratiates the films storyline as it develops adding much to the proceedings.
The same can be said for her emotive music for the movie Never Let Me Go (2010), which again is highly effective both within the movie and away from it when one listens to the score as just music. Portman conveys a mood of melancholy via solo cello performances, woodwind, and solo piano performances which are underlined and punctuated by the string section. The film was directed by Mark Romanek from a screenplay by Alex Garland. Never Let Me Go is set in an alternative history and focuses upon three characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy portrayed by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, respectively, and how they become entangled in a love triangle.
Portman’s score is again essential to the film’s storyline, creating subtle and alluring moods and creating romantic, sad, and dramatically tense atmospheres. Godmothered is a more recent score from the composer. The film, which is a Disney production, has had mixed reactions from critics but as far as I can see the cinema going public love it, and that is all that matters isn’t it? It’s a movie that has a feel good and warm persona, and don’t we need something these days that makes us smile? Yes, we do. The score is filled with quirky and comedic passages that are all held together by oodles of sentimental melancholy.
A young and unskilled fairy godmother ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored. The score is a delight, and we hear Portman at her melodic best here. The work skips literally from one delicious piece to another, the composer creating a veritable landslide of joyous and affecting themes. It is also fully symphonic, which straight away grabs one’s attention, there is a fragility about Portman’s soundtrack that not only attracts and hypnotises but succeeds in enhancing the events on screen. Even with its reference to The Sound of Music within one of its tracks, both the film and its score complement each other as they are both enchanting and romantic, quirky, and entertaining. The story will transport us away from the here and now for nearly two hours, which again I am sure will be welcomed by many and the soundtrack is a sublime listening experience within the movie and away from it.
Private Peaceful, is a 2012 film that is said to be based partly on fact and taken from the story or novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo. The plot focuses upon two brothers that have both fallen in love with the same girl. But the story is far more involved than this. It explores the story and life of a young British man Thomas Peaceful, or “Tommo” as seen by him and as related by him in an account where he recalls his experiences and certain events in his life.
The early section of the story relates to his life as a boy and takes place before the outbreak of WW l, it tells the story of his obsessive love for Molly a beautiful young girl who he met on his first day at school. It also focuses upon his eldest sibling Big Joe who is brain damaged due to complications at birth and of his other Brother Charlie who is older than Thomas but younger than Joe. Thomas has for several years kept a dark and terrible secret, when he was younger, he went wood cutting with his Father, but a tree nearly falls on Thomas, his Father saves him, but his act of selflessness costs him his own life as he is crushed by the tree. Thomas has kept this too himself all these years, as he feels he is the reason that his Father died and is eaten up with grief and guilt. The three Brothers grow up together with the two younger members of the trio Charlie and Tommo protecting Big Joe at all costs. Their childhood is a happy one spent playing in the fields and having so many adventures together. One of their favourite pastimes being to annoy their Great Aunt who they nick name Grandma Wolf or The Wolfwoman.
They also cause the Colonel a lot of headaches and one day see an airplane fly over being the first in their village to do so. As they grow Charlie, Tommo and Molly all find employment either at the estate or in the village. As Charlie and Molly become closer, Tommo begins to feel increasingly left out, and soon discovers that Charlie and Molly have been seeing each other and Molly becomes pregnant. She then moves in with the Peaceful family after her own family refuse to have any more to do with her. As the outbreak of the great war becomes more obvious Charlie and Molly are married and soon after both Charlie and Thomas are sent to the battlefields of Flanders, where although they have had their differences, Charlie is still highly protective of his younger Brother. During an assault on German lines Tommo is wounded and despite being told to leave him in no mans land Charlie stays with his sibling once again protecting him at all costs. After which Charlie is accused of being a coward by his sergeant, charges are brought, and he is court martialed and executed. The story ends with Tommo waiting to go into action at the battle of the Somme. Directed by Pat O Connor, the movie starred Jack O Connell as Charlie Peaceful and featured a strong cast of familiar British actors that included, George MacKay as Tommo, Alexandra Roach as Molly, Richard Griffiths as the Colonel, Frances de la Tour as Grandma Wolf and Maxine Peak as Hazel Peaceful. Rachel Portman provided the movie with a sensitive and pastoral sounding score which is also a lilting and subtle one.
The composer adding moving and soft nuances throughout to underline the ever developing and highly personal storyline. Portman also provides a darker more ominous style of music, for the more dramatically laced parts of the story with its subdued but at the same time effective presence. A symphonic work, the main parts of the score being performed by the string section, giving it a rustic but idyllic sound, which is enhanced further and sustained by a small brass ensemble with percussion and woods adding underlying support. Other movies that the composer has scored include Chocolat, The Duchess, Harts War, Emma, Despite the Falling Snow, Benny and Joon, Race and so many more.