Music in the movies: Patrick Doyle

Best known for his soundtracks for literary adaptations, composer Patrick Doyle is also behind the music for Marvel's incoming Thor. To celebrate, Glen salutes Doyle’s finest work…

Patrick Doyle started his career as an actor, appearing in Chariots Of Fire, before joining the Renaissance Theatre Company. There, he served as musical director, both composing music for plays and acting in them.

It was in his time there that he struck up a friendship with Kenneth Branagh, which would eventually lead him to become a composer for film. Since becoming a composer, Doyle has produced a number of scores for Branagh’s work, most of which are adaptations of literary classics.

With his score set to be heard in Branagh’s Thor, I thought now would be an ideal time to look at his collaborations with the director, as well as some of his other scores for literary adaptations.

Henry V 

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This was the first score Doyle composed. and prior to this, he had mostly been working as an actor. Kenneth Branagh, however, decided his talents were better suited to composing, so hired him to write the score for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Considering this is his first score, it’s an incredibly assured piece of work that still, to this day, ranks among Doyle’s best works.

It’s also incredibly varied, with the segments accompanying the battle scenes being drastically different to those of the field. It’s the non-battle pieces that really stand out as the score’s finest moments, as the expert melodies that carry them really enhance the emotional impact of the film.

Dead Again 

Perhaps not the type of material that you’d necessarily expect from Branagh, but Dead Again is a solid mystery thriller that features an excellent score from Doyle reminiscent of those composed in the 1940s.

It’s not the most refined of pieces, as it’s quite bombastic, but at its heart it still has the feel of a classical score, which shows great intelligence, since it perfectly captures the settings of the film.

Much Ado About Nothing 

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The film itself received a fair amount of praise upon its release, but time hasn’t been kind to it, as it really hasn’t aged well at all. Doyle’s score dominates proceedings, as barely a minute goes by without some form of musical accompaniment, which would be fine if this didn’t represent one of Doyle’s weaker efforts.

His previous Shakespeare adaptation saw an emotional sophistication and an immense skill in composition. Here, Doyle borrows liberally from his work on Henry V. It attempts to draw out similar emotions, but doesn’t succeed nearly as well. On the plus side, there are some lovely choral passages written by Doyle that give the piece its own identity.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 

The film itself is a far from perfect adaptation of the source material, but Doyle’s score goes some way to make up for that. There’s an overwhelming feeling of tension that runs throughout the piece, making this one of the finest horror scores of the last 25 years.

It’s not all foreboding and terror, though, as love themes such as Wedding Night are incredibly beautiful, and give the piece some variety. While we may have to wait some time for a truly great adaptation of Shelley’s novel, we have the perfect score already in this effort by Doyle.

Sense And Sensibility 

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Doyle continued his Branagh connection with this score for an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, which starred Branagh’s then-wife Emma Thompson. It also marked the first time Doyle received an Academy Award nomination, which perhaps goes some way to explain the restrictions in the Best Original Score category, in that it’s fine for composers to recycle their own work time after time, but as soon as someone uses someone else’s work as inspiration, as was the case this year with Clint Mansell’s Black Swan score, they’re deemed illegible.

The score itself works fine within the context of the film, and is suitably romantic, but it’s a shame that it’s a score like this that got him a nomination and not a truly original one like his debut.


With a number of Doyle’s previous efforts seeing him recycle his own themes, Hamlet was a refreshing change, in that it was a score made up of wholly original material, standing out as not only one of the finest scores he has composed, but one of the finest scores ever to accompany an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work.

The piece gradually builds throughout the epic feature’s runtime, as the monarch is portrayed as a sympathetic character that is gradually overwhelmed by his situation and the forces around him. Key characters have their own themes, and it closes with the wonderful In Pace by Placido Domingo, which makes this a dense and hugely enjoyable score.

Great Expectations 

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Doyle’s score for Alfonso Cuarón’s contemporary take on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is a much different score than we’ve come to expect, and a pleasant change as a result. The composition here sees him collaborate with a number of artists, and take in a number of different musical styles to create an interest mix of sounds.

Given the wide range of styles adopted, not all work well or complement each other, but it’s a nice change from Doyle’s typical approach, and what’s considered to be the norm when it comes to modern composing.

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire 

Doyle’s contribution to the Harry Potter franchise doesn’t quite reach the heights of John Williams’ work on the series, and even uses a couple of the master’s compositions, most notably Hedwig’s Theme.

Still, for the most part, Doyle has attempted to stamp his own sound on the piece by doing away with the sweeping magical majesty previously heard, instead exploring much darker territory, and introducing great motifs for characters and events ranging from the heroic, brass-heavy themes that accompany the Quidditch World Cup, and the string heavy-pieces that accompany Voldemort’s presence.

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