Hitting the Right Note: Dario Marianelli’s Unforgettable Film Scores

From Darkest Hour to Pride & Prejudice, the composer keys up the music of the heart

Dario Marianelli

To evoke the drama, urgency, and finally hope of Churchill rising up to the Nazi threat in Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright turned to his longtime collaborator Dario Marianelli. Indeed Wright brought the composer on early so that he could play his stirring score to set the right tone during production. In a film that dramatizes how, as one character puts it, Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” Marianelli’s music distills those powerful words into pure emotion. “His score for Darkest Hour is a rare thing of beauty,” writes Indiewire, adding that it “holds the film together, and the people of Britain along with it.”

Celebrating our 15th anniversary, as well looking forward to Darkest Hour, we spotlight the remarkable contributions Marianelli has made to five Focus films. By deftly weaving together different musical traditions into a tapestry at once unique and perfectly in tune with the film’s period, Marianelli has become one of our greatest film composers.

The official trailer for Darkest Hour

Pride & Prejudice’s music finds love in the air

For Pride and Prejudice, Joe Wright met with Marianelli early to create songs for different dances and recitals in the film, music that had to sound contemporary to Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and her world. “In our very first conversation, we ended up talking about Beethoven’s early piano sonatas,” Marianelli remembers. “Their spirit…became the starting point for the score.” Playing off lively energy of the period's Romantic movement, Marianelli crafted the film's cues to reflect the film’s heroine’s inquisitive mind and passionate heart. “That mood of voluptuous excitement, barely contained, is augmented by Dario Marianelli's score,” notes The New York Times, “which takes the sound and style of late 18th- and early 19th-century piano music in increasingly romantic directions.” For his brilliant efforts, Marianelli received his first Academy Award nomination. 

Get Pride & Prejudice now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Keira Knightley plays Dario Marianelli's piano music in Pride & Prejudice.

Atonement’s score explores storytelling itself

Marianelli won his first Academy Award for his stunningly innovative score for Joe Wright’s Atonement. Rather than echo any specific musical style, Marianelli focused on the film’s themes of deception and desire. “The idea was to blur the boundaries between the different levels of 'truth' within the story and covertly insinuate the idea that what we witness as spectators might be a fiction within the fiction,” explains Marianelli. By using striking typewriter keys as a percussion element in several sections, for example, he subtly alludes to the act of storytelling itself. Although it moves from upbeat jazz numbers to swooning romantic cues to elegiac orchestration, Marianelli’s music never loses sight of what’s at stake emotionally for the film’s characters. For Cinema Blend, “The score, like the movie itself, is both challenging and heartbreaking.” 

Get Atonement now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The sound of typewriter keys speed the story in Atonement.

Jane Eyre’s music of the soul

In adapting Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, Cary Fukunaga sought to realize the dark, tempestuous emotions buried just beneath the characters’ prim facades. To assist him, Marianelli crafted music that relied heavily on strings––especially the virtuoso violin solos of Jack Liebeck––to draw out a plaintive tone that would reverberate throughout the film. The lonely, stormy music, resonating perfectly with the film’s raging weather and forlorn moors, provides a voice to Jane’s (Mia Wasikowska) and Mr. Rochester’s (Michael Fassbender) conflicted, and often repressed, emotions. For The New York Times, “Dario Marianelli’s music strikes all the right chords of dread, tenderness and longing.” 

Get Jane Eyre now on iTunes or at Amazon.

“To Score Jane Eyre” featurette

Anna Karenina’s dance of love 

In adapting Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina to the screen, Joe Wright imagined the famous love story as “a ballet with words,” a concept that required Marianelli to get busy writing his score right away. “The idea of using music and choreography to tell the story meant that both me and the choreographer…had to start working before almost everyone else,” recalls Marianelli. In addition to his dance numbers, Marianelli’s score, picking up on the luxurious melodies of Tchaikovsky and the Russian tradition, helps fuel the fevered dream of love between Anna (Keira Knightley) and Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As Cinema Blend notes, “All the elements of production here––from Dario Marianelli's propulsive score to Jacqueline Durran's bravura costumes to Seamus McGarvey's sharp cinematography––synch up so perfectly that the movie sweeps you along like the train on one of Anna's immense dresses.” For this memorable music, Marianelli received his third Academy Award nomination.

Get Anna Karenina now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The official trailer for Anna Karenina

Kubo and the Two Strings plucks at one’s heart

Kubo and the Two Strings’ director Travis Knight knew that getting the right score would be essential to his stop-motion animation adventure about a Shamisen-playing boy’s quest to unlock the secret of his father. “It started with music. Kubo is like an Orpheus figure. He’s gifted with divine magic, divine music,” Knight told PopMatters. “When I thought of a composer who could do that, I thought of Dario Marianelli.” Marianelli immersed himself in the musical traditions of the character, a direction which Movie Music UK suggests “has also always been a strength of his––Agora delved into the rich history of Arabic music, Anna Karenina played on Russian classics, and now Kubo and the Two Strings has him deep in the musical world of Japan.” From that rich tradition, Marianelli forged a sound organic to Kubo’s world and yet specific to the young hero’s quest. It was not the East, however, but his arrangement of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for Regina Spektor that provided one of the film’s most unforgettable melodies. 

Get Kubo and the Two Strings now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Regina Spektor’s video of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for Kubo and the Two Strings 

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