culture, directors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, movies, music, oscars, scores

Rachel Portman and The Duchess (2008)

Her film scores are feminine and fanciful, haunting and magical. Fifty-five year old English composer, Rachel Portman, was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1997 for Emma. Her personal stamp as composer is behind an eclectic mix of films and television which illustrates her wide range ability to adapt to differing directors. Known for her strings and wind instruments, several of her scores evoke longing and represent a female protagonist. Her long career is impressive. She epitomizes the importance how a score can elevate the audience’s appreciation of the film. Her scores coat your sensibilities with a creamy, nostalgic emotional residue, and it is easy to forgive whatever shortcomings the film contained because the score echoes in your head long after the credits are gone. These are few of my favorites:

The violin solo grabs my heart and won’t let go.

The flute gives the score its fairy tale flavor. Is Vianne (Juliette Binoche) a good witch or a bad witch?

Whimsical, full-bodied orchestra lifts and floats your emotions like a bird drifting on a breeze. 

The romanticized view of golf as an analogy of life (better than boxing!) and Jack Lemmon? I’m hooked. Director Robert Redford capitalizes on the beauty of nature, and this film is no exception. Despite the stereotype of the “Magical Negro”, it’s a charming tale. The score ties in the mysticism and the nostalgic 30s jazzy-feel of the time. 

This is one of Johnny Depp’s best performances; as Buster Keaton, he was brilliant. The piccolo solo in the score pays homage to the silent era and compliments this 1993 dark comedy. 

If you missed this 2009 HBO biopic/drama starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, you can catch it for free on YouTube. About the reclusive, quirky relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, it is a sad story that F. Scott Fitzgerald could have penned. Listen how the oboe and piano melody accentuates the theme of lost dreams from a bygone era of wealth and prestige.  A must see! 

Here’s a BAFTA composers interview where you can learn more about Rachel Portman:  

The Duchess 

I learned a lot about the The Duchess of Devonshire from the blog of Rachel Knowles found HERE. Or, I recommend reading Amanda Foreman’s account of Georgiana Cavendish in Georgiana: The Duchess of Devonshire.


Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806)  was an English aristocrat who married at the age of 17 to the Duke of Devonshire. She possessed a charming, passionate personality; her complicated marriage and the role of women during the Enlightenment period is the focus of the biopic directed by Saul Dibb and stars Keira Knightley who represents “G” over a span of ten years.


With lavish costumes, balls, bedrooms, and the salons of the British nobility, all the drama of a soap opera plays out of this royal family. The Duchess showcases a superb acting performance by Ralph Fiennes as the Duke who exudes power and tyrannical rule, but manages to convey a sensitive, human side that only Fiennes could deliver. Georgiana’s affair with the future prime minister, Charles Grey, (Dominic Cooper), her complicated friendship with her husband’s mistress, Bess Foster, (Hayley Atwell), and the quest to bear a son for the Duke are the primary points of the plot, while the theme of liberty and the limited rights of women are conveyed throughout. Some critics thought the pacing slow, but I did not. I enjoyed the score, the production design, and the multi-faceted personality of Georgiana expressed through Keira Knightley’s acting.

Georgiana Cavendish Devonshire was a progressive feminist, a politician of the Whig party, and a devoted mother as well as a vain, self-absorbed party-girl and gambler. Colorful and charismatic, the film is worth watching to absorb a sense of the dynamic personality of the Duchess of Devonshire.  7/10.

Are you a fan or foe of the film?

What are your favorite Rachel Portman scores? 

"Sincerely, actors, movies, your favorite fan"

Dear Ralph Fiennes,


If I ever have the pleasure to meet you, I promise to address you as “Rafe Fines”.


You’ve said, “The process of making a film is a mad lottery. Whenever you get the feeling that you’re making something special, you have to quickly squash it because you are so often proved wrong.”

You have been nominated over fifty times in your film career but have never won an Oscar or Golden Globe. Your biggest accolade thus far is a Tony Award for Hamlet in 1995. Your villains in film have reached iconic status; your voice is as smooth and delicious as aged Scotch; your eyes and intellect entrance; and you have the breadth and depth on the same plateau as Daniel Day-Lewis. Here’s one top-ten list showcasing your talent:

Other personal favorites would include: The Duchess, The Invisible Women, and Grand Budapest Hotel. You do have your trademark expressions frozen in my mind.

The Pained Lover

Relationships are difficult, aren’t they? Especially when outside forces interfere with your all-consuming love. Who better than you to lament, mourn, suffocate, or repress your devotion for a lady on the screen?

The Powerful Boss

You ooze power and your haughty confidence makes anyone jump. I love your energy.

The intelligent, psychotic monster

Here’s where you shine. You are the epitome of Lucifer from Milton’s, Paradise Lost who  sermonizes, rationalizes, and justifies his case for descent. Ralph Fiennes, you’re not scary; you’re petrifying. How do you shed that horrible character and go back to Ralph Fiennes? When you wake up at 3:00a.m., and look into the mirror, I wonder what you think and who you see?

Daring, unexpected roles 

You have the ability to play diverse characters when you aren’t portraying the above archetype. Ralph, even with flops like The Avengers or Maid in Manhattan, I find you one of the more horrifying and stimulating actors working today.  As a director, I enjoyed The Invisible Women. I thought it a marvelous period piece. Looking forward to seeing you in Bond 24.

I remain faithfully,

Your Biggest Fan

actors, movies

Psychopaths in Film

The power of ambivalence. How is it I am repelled and drawn to stories about the psychopath? Do you believe there’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inside all of us? Perhaps that’s the allure of this anti-hero–his cleverness and seductive power. If one focuses upon the horror story which centers around a psychopath, there are plenty of great examples in film over the years. Can you narrow him/her to one?

The term itself has a complicated definition and certainly Hollywood and television has distorted the clinical concept of what is a psychopath. I read a fascinating article about Misrepresenting the Psychopath in Hollywood here. It has been easy to sweep up characters who portray abnormal characteristics such as: manic-depression, schizophrenia, bestiality, extreme violence, and egomania and dump them into the giant box labeled “psychotic”. If you enjoy thrillers or suspense, chances are there’s a character, whether protagonist or antagonist, and he or she is “psychotic”. Consider the films Wall Street or The Wolf of Wall Street. Clinical definitions would categorize both protagonists as psychotic with huge appetites for greed and experts at manipulation. They are passionate but not disturbed like Norman Bates or Hannibal Lector. Still, when one thinks of psychotic characters in film, these two “crazy” characters pop into most people’s minds.

There are quiet monsters and loud monsters. There are characters who do not complete violent acts but enjoy manipulation and never kill anyone. Most all have high intelligences and are charismatic and exude power. Based on that definition, here are my favorite character psychopaths:

Halloween is upon us–which psychopath is your favorite in film?