Kenneth Branagh: ‘Patrick Doyle is supreme at capturing the beautifully messy business of being human’

8 February 2019, 17:55

By Elizabeth Davis

The director and actor spoke to Classic FM about his new film, All is True, and his long-standing working relationship

Kenneth Branagh and composer Patrick Doyle have worked together on an astonishing 16 films – including Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Cinderella.

“We've known each other for over 30 years, and the first time I heard his music was when he came and offered his impression of how he might score Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which we were doing a theatre production of back in 1987. And what was immediately apparent was that he has a great gift for melody, he really understands a tune, a popular tune, deceptively simple.”

Patrick Doyle's Shakespeare films

Branagh has directed filmed versions of several plays by Shakespeare, including Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night and Hamlet, of which the director says “I can't help but cry when I hear Patrick's music for Hamlet when Ophelia is in trouble”.

Writing a soundtrack for a Shakespeare adaptation provides particular challenges, as Branagh points out:

“Does music distract, if it's too ornate? Does it compete, if there's too much of it? Does it provide a wash of a single feeling or emotion, rather than the kind of detail and depth that you might get across a complicated line of poetry? So he was very open to trying to strike all of those balances and it was a conversation that began and has been really in existence – an open-ended conversation – ever since.”

The music for All is True

All is True is not an adaptation of a Shakespeare play (though it is the alternative title of Shakespeare's play Henry VIII), but rather tells the story of the last three years of the playwright's life. In 1613 Williams Shakespeare (played by Sir Kenneth himself, in some heavy makeup) returns to his hometown of Stratford to find that his family aren't entirely thrilled to have him back – and what's more Will Shakespeare is struggling to come to terms with the death of his young son, Hamnet.

“I said to [Patrick] 'look, I actually don't know if there's a lot of music in this, a little music or no music at all'. I do know that the film has a meditative quality, a sort of ruminative quality because it's about a man coming back to him home town. We'll have candlelight and begin to experience that total dark and total quiet that the country of that time would have provided. So there's something about silence in the movie, whether it's an illusion of silence that music somehow hints at, or actual silence.”

Patrick Doyle's songs

Many of Kenneth Branagh's films include songs, with Patrick Doyle setting texts by Shakespeare. And All is True is no exception. The film closes with a beautiful setting of the song from Cymbeline 'Fear no more the heat o'the sun'

“It's so simple but in the context of a funeral or the farewell to an individual, I find it unbearably moving, it's so beautiful and simple. Patrick seems to do both – there is both a celebration and a tender ache in the music and in what he brings out of the lyric at one and the same time.

“You you might argue that it comes back to the title of this movie – All is True – the rough and the smooth, and the good and the bad all have their necessary and vital component in our lives. That ability to strike in his music, and the songs particularly, that sort of generous summation of the beautifully messy business of being a human being, is what Patrick Doyle is supreme at.”

Watch the full interview below