Here's a revelation (or not): Hans Zimmer is brilliant at scoring romantic comedies. For a composer famous for the macho bluster heard in the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and Inception, this is perhaps unexpected. But Zimmer has harboured a sensitive side throughout his career - from the synthesised charm of Driving Miss Daisy to his delicate work on Nine Months and As Good As It Gets. The Holiday finds him on similar ground. A seasonal comedy/drama from director Nancy Meyers, it's the story of two unhappy women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) on either sides of the Atlantic, who decide to swap homes in their respective countries. Of course, they both learn to fall in love again, Diaz with Winslet's brother (Jude Law) and Winslet herself with a film composer (Jack Black). The plot's as fluffy and treacly as it gets but it's hearty, good natured sentiment nonetheless, helped by likeable performances across the board.
It also inspired Zimmer to compose one of the most charming scores of his career. Dare one suggest it – the big heart of The Holiday may be more memorable than his so-called trend-setting efforts on films such as The Dark Knight... It's certainly refreshing to hear Zimmer working in a more low-key, intimate arena, although he has compiled his usual list of ghost writers and orchestrators, including Lorne Balfe and Henry Jackman. Regardless, it's a score that's as warm as the breathy Santa Ana winds infusing Winslet with a new-found zest for life in her adopted Los Angeles home.
The film also allows for a witty bit of intertextuality, with Black's character not only introducing Winslet to the wonders of various film scores in his local Blockbuster but actually composing a theme at one stage for the veteran Hollywood actor played by Eli Wallach who touches both their lives. Contorting the theme on his keyboard slightly, Black suggests it could also serve as her theme, using "only the good notes". Significantly for Zimmer, the main composer Black cites is Ennio Morricone, and his work on The Mission. Using similar inspiration as a launchpad, Zimmer's lovely main theme, appropriately entitled Maestro, interpolates Deborah's Theme from Morricone's Once Upon a Time in America for its first half, before leading into a classic, galvanizing romantic piece in the second. To hear such sentimental, melodic music coming from Zimmer's pen is a breath of fresh air.
The rest of the score continues in the same vein, with nary a negative step or dark corner. Placing particular emphasis on strings, piano, woodwind and acoustic guitar, it's a delight from start to finish. Of particular note is the heart-breaking sub-theme for Winslet's character, underlying her despondency and unluckiness in love, first heard in Iris and Jasper. By contrast, the wonderfully upbeat, tinkling Dream Kitchen captures her joy at being let loose in Diaz' house for the first time. There are also more contemporary touches credited to individual artists. The deconstructed, jazzy versions of the main theme heard in the likes of Kayak For One (by Ryeland Allison) and Busy Guy seem to indicate the contemporary attitude of Diaz' go-getter, although she's no happier than her English counterpart.
Another interesting device is the use of vocals by Imogen Heap, although it appears to be more a textural device than an emotional one. Legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert even lends his skills to a track named Verso e Prosa, an intoxicatingly sensual piece calling to mind the heyday of Burt Bacharach.
The best tracks however are the ones drawing on Zimmer's primary emotional theme, which gets an especially moving rendition in Kiss Goodbye. Prior to the expected emotional climax, Wallach's theme gets a nice little riff in Three Musketeers before Zimmer lays on the sugar good and proper. In a neat reflection of the women's contrasting storylines, Winslet achieves her musical "Gumption" in a wonderfully forthright piece utilising her own in-film theme to wonderful effect; while Diaz is afforded the unashamedly OTT finale as she learns to "Cry" again, the orchestra going full bore. We end with the slightest strains of Deborah's Theme but, with the characters having discovered the happiness they seek, its melancholy refrains are only hinted at.
It hardly needs to be said again but the breezy, good nature of The Holiday is an absolute joy. Zimmer really is at his best in these kinds of amiable, good-natured scores, ones which allow real heart and pathos to come forward. Ironically, although perhaps insubstantial on the first listen, The Holiday probably contains more replay value and rewarding emotional textures than any of Zimmer's louder works. An unsung pleasure from the Maestro.
The score can be found on Amazon websites such as these links: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. The DVD (see the cover below) can be found at these links: Amazon.co.uk (region 2) and Amazon.com (region 1).