Rachel Portman - film composer

Rachel Portman: Emma - film score album cover Music has been in Rachel Portman's blood from an early age. Born in England, she learned how to play the piano and violin and was composing by the age of 13. She went on to study at Oxford University where she composed the music for a student film "Privileged" starring Hugh Grant. This film had a small theatrical release and with that early success, a career as a film composer was in little doubt but it took a few years to become established in that role. Before her now extensive film work, Portman performed some sterling work for Television such as the "Living with Dinosaurs" series and the BBC Drama "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit". The director of that latter series, Beeban Kidron, went on to make some Hollywood films and thus helped to give Portman some further big screen experience starting with "Used People". Although no stranger to awards for her Television work, Rachel Portman now has the distinction of being the first female composer to win an oscar for her music for "Emma". Since then, she has been nominated for a further two Academy Awards for "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat" (both for director Lasse Halstrom).

Rachel Portman: Nicholas Nickleby - film score album cover Portman writes for conventional orchestral forces (in many cases orchestrating her own work), in what might be described as a light and airy manner, with lush passages for the strings and bouncy rhythms for the woodwinds. These are supplemented with tuned percussion, harp and frequently piano. The nature of her film music may be due in part to the romantic or character-driven nature of the films she has worked on, since so far she has managed to avoid the noisy requirements of the action genre. In those character-based dramas, Portman seems to have a keen eye for the complexities of relationships, and is able summarise and realise those intertwined feelings in music with charm and wit. In most cases there is an overriding mood of humour, happiness and hope. A good example is "Smoke" whose story threads unfold at a relaxed pace with plenty time for character development and audience reflection. The music is there as a casual participant, not forceful or judgemental, but supporting the impression that every life is full of interesting stories. Portman is married to the film producer Uberto Pasolini, and despite a full career has brought three children into the world. Although her main output has been for the cinema, she has recently completed an opera called "The Little Prince".

Among Portman's available soundtracks, we can suggest:

Although not available on Amazon, there is also a compilation album "Rachel Portman - Soundtracks" consisting of 23 film tracks chosen by the composer herself.

Rachel Portman was commissioned to write a piece for the BBC Proms in 2007, and the result was "The Water Diviner's Tale" which received its world premiere on August 27th at the Royal Albert Hall. Portman's orchestration for "The Duchess" is quite typical of costume dramas being based on strings with main theme presented on solo cello plus some harp and piano, but it also has its darker emotional side. The main theme is flexible in nature, and Portman alters its character to suggest a classical nobility, the rural landscape and a rollercoaster emotional ride.

Rachel Portman: Never Let Me Go - film score album cover For "Never Let Me Go" based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Portman has crafted an excellent score which suits the film excellently. We don't want to give away any plot spoilers, but the score starts off innocently with little elements of strangeness and darkness, becoming very wistful and emotional. The composer now has an official website at www.RachelPortman.co.uk where you can listen to a number of tracks from her movie scores. Rachel Portman was also the first composer in the "Conversations with Composers" series launched in 2012 and held in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall. On mfiles we have also published an Interview with Rachel Portman by author John Caps with a focus on her music for both Stage and Screen.

Portman has recently provided music for "Mimi and the Mountain Dragon" for the BBC. This animation is adapted from the 2014 book by "War Horse" author Michael Morpurgo. This is due to be on television over the Christmas 2019 period.

Films by Rachel Portman:

    Rachel Portman: Chocolat - film score album cover
  • Life is Sweet
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread
  • Rebecca's Daughters
  • Benny & Joon - some quirky Chaplinesque music to match the characters
  • Friends
  • A Pyromaniac's Love Story - there is a recurring Tango-like theme
  • Ethan Frome
  • Smoke - a relaxed piano theme plus marimba dominate the soundtrack without overpowering the film
  • Used People - for director Beeban Kidron
  • Palookaville
  • Sirens
  • The Road to Wellville
  • Only You - includes a number of songs, some sung by Michael Bolton
  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar - with Beeban Kidron again
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio
  • Emma - in this 1996 version of the Jane Austin book, the music pleasantly captures the laid back story with a well-meaning yet interfering Emma
  • Rachel Portman: Addicted to Love - film score album cover
  • Addicted to Love
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - a video animation sequel, including songs with lyricist Don Black
  • The Joy Luck Club
  • Marvin's Room - sensitively scored but with enough quirks to represent the dysfunctional family, the end title song is by Carly Simon
  • Ratcatcher
  • Addicted to Love
  • Beloved - though set in America, the inventive score uses African instruments to underline the characters' heritage
  • The Cider House Rules - based on the John Irving book
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance
  • The Other Sister - a romantic comedy involving two disabled characters
  • Chocolat - Portman's contribution is invaluable amid much source music including Johnny Depp on guitar and an arrangement of Erik Satie's Gnossienne No.1
  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • Hart's War - a darker yet sensitive score with touches of Americana for this story set in a prison camp
  • Nicholas Nickleby
  • Oliver Twist (2005) - the new version with Ben Kingsley as Fagin
  • Miss Potter - contributing additional music to this soundtrack by Nigel Westlake
  • The Duchess - some pleasant string-driven tracks but with some dark undertones, the soundtrack also features works by Beethoven and Haydn
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
  • Never Let Me Go - based on the Best-Selling Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the music perfectly complements the film - highly recommended
  • Rachel Portman: Their Finest - film score album cover
  • Private Peaceful
  • Still Life
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - a Chinese production released in summer 2011
  • Bel Ami
  • The Vow
  • Belle - period drama with some baroque style music
  • Dolphin Tale 2
  • Race
  • Despite the Falling Snow
  • A Dog's Purpose - a light comedy drama based on a dog who keeps getting reincarnated!
  • Their Finest - a romantic drama set during the Blitz
  • Julia - documentary about celebraity cook Julia Childs

TV work by Rachel Portman:

    Rachel Portman: Jim Henson's The Storyteller - TV score album cover
  • Four Days in July
  • A Little Princess
  • Good as Gold
  • Woman in Black - first work for director Beeban Kidron
  • The Storyteller - theme and incidental music for the Jim Henson mini-series
  • The Jim Henson Hour
  • The Storyteller: Greek Myths - follow on mini-series continuing her association with Henson
  • The Falklands War: The Untold Story
  • Living with Dinosours
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - BBC Drama Series
  • Great Moments in Aviation
  • Grey Gardens - TV Movie
  • Bessie - TV Movie
  • Reel Iconic - TV Mini Series
  • Mimi and the Mountain Dragon - animation

Rachel Portman - Memorabilia:

Here are some CD covers signed by Rachel Portman. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click on any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.

Rachel Portman: Emma - signed CD Rachel Portman: Hart's War - signed CD Rachel Portman: Never Let Me Go - signed CD Rachel Portman: Nicholas Nickleby - signed CD Rachel Portman: Oliver Twist - signed CD Rachel Portman: Sun Flower and the Secret Fan - signed CD Rachel Portman: The Cider House Rules - signed CD Rachel Portman: The Joy Luck Club - signed CD Rachel Portman: The Legend of Bagger Vance - signed CD Rachel Portman: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 - signed CD