Today is the seventh anniversary of the release date of Their Finest, a period drama directed by Lone Scherfig about a scriptwriter for propaganda films during the time of the Blitz. The score of the film had to take the viewer back in time to the 40’s, while bolstering the high stakes and drama, and balancing the romantic elements of the plot. This took a talented and experienced composer; luckily, Rachel Portman was on the team.
Rachel Portman is an American composer whose work has been primarily in film scores; in fact, she has composed over a hundred scores for film and television. Rachel studied Music at Worcester College, Oxford, where she wrote music for student films and theater productions, inspiring her career early on.
After college, Rachel began her career composing for BBC and Channel 4 movies, including Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Four Days in July, and Jim Henson’s live action/puppet series The StoryTeller. For her work on The StoryTeller, Rachel received the Anthony Asquith Award from the British Film Institute.
One of Rachel’s most well-known film scores was for Emma (1996). Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, this film is an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name. A light and playful romantic comedy, the film needed the right music to go with it. As FF2 Contributor Sophia Jin says of Rachel’s score for Emma, “Portman’s music feels joyful and lighthearted. It is warming and brings a sense of calm and peace to the picture.” Rachel won an Academy Award for Best Musical or Comedy Score for Emma, making her the first female composer to win an Academy Award in that category.
Rachel was also nominated for her work in the film Chocolat (2000), about a mother and a daughter who open a chocolate shop in 1950’s La Belle France, where they have just moved. The score in Chocolat underscores the bright and joyful personalities of the mother-daughter pair, whose arrival shakes up the uptight and traditional town they find themselves in.
As Sophia Jin says, “Vianne and her daughter come from a Mayan background, very different to those in the town of Lansquenet, and whenever Vianne is selling her tempting chocolate, the music becomes mystical and lively. Her motif that comes back over and over again made me really enjoy the movie; it felt very warmhearted and enchanted.” Rachel was nominated for another Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score for Chocolat.
Rachel also composed a children’s opera based on the book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. She also wrote the score for the musical Little House On the Prairie, based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In 2010, Rachel became the first woman to receive the Rachel Kirk Award at the BMI Film & TV Awards for her contributions to film and television music.
The world of film and television composition has been primarily male-dominated throughout Rachel’s career, and yet she’s managed to break through the social bounds to reach incredible achievements, in some cases being the first woman to do so. Besides that, she is the queen of period films. Anyone who enjoys watching movies has certainly been blessed with Rachel’s tunes, and that’s just how it should be.
© Julia Lasker (4/7/23) FF2 Media
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Read Sophia Jin’s tribute to Rachel Portman here.
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Featured photo: Transmission Films