If ever a movie demanded a rich, romantic score, it’s “Cinderella,” with its fairy-tale story of an orphaned servant girl, a handsome prince, a grand ball and a glass slipper.
And who better to provide the music than composer Patrick Doyle, who created the colorful music of Disney-Pixar’s “Brave” three years ago, and has worked on nearly a dozen films directed by “Cinderella’s” Kenneth Branagh. Their collaboration goes back nearly 30 years to when they were doing Shakespeare plays together in London during the late 1980s.
Doyle started on the current film by writing the grand waltz that is the movie’s centerpiece, as Cinderella (Lily James) charms the prince (Richard Madden) and all the King’s court at a lavish ball at the palace. “Everything leads to the ballroom and beyond,” Doyle explains, “so it was crucial.”
The project started with a phone call. “I was on holiday in France,” Doyle recalls. “Ken called me, and talked about the tone of the picture and the feeling he envisioned. The music had to have romance and heart. So I sat down at the piano and wrote the love waltz, something simple and direct, but with strength.”
That was in October 2013, enabling choreographer Rob Ashford to use Doyle’s demo and eventually a more fully orchestrated mockup, during shooting of the ballroom sequence a few weeks later at London’s Pinewood Studios.
Doyle’s music is vitally important, says Branagh. “The tone we were trying to achieve was playful and joyful, but also emotional without being manipulative. Patrick found a beautiful yet robust tune that could be orchestrated so that it could offer lots of moods. It had simplicity, joy, and added a sense of fun. And, of course, his trademark: romantic.”
“La Valse de L’Amour,” as Doyle called the big number, became the main theme for Ella and her prince. The composer penned four more waltzes and three polkas for the ball, lending a 19th-century musical flavor that complements the period design and costumes.
Performed by the 65-piece London Symphony Orchestra, the score offers fanfares and flourishes for the prince; magical sounds for the fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter); furious chase music for the pumpkin-coach getaway; and warm, lyrical music for Ella’s special relationship with her birth parents.
Doyle, who drew on his Scottish heritage to inform the music of “Brave,” leaned on English folksong tradition for a song that becomes another of “Cinderella’s” key themes: “Lavender’s Blue,” a 17th-century tune that Ella’s mother sings to her early in the film, and which becomes the aural link to her mother throughout.
Doyle added choral notes for the transformation of Cinderella’s dress (suggesting “a gift from above,” he says), her isolation in the attic (“an ethereal, melancholy touch”) and for Cate Blanchett’s wicked stepmother (“a slightly more mysterious, otherworldly sense”).
In one of the picture’s best jokes, stepsister Drisella (Sophie McShera) murders one of Doyle’s own tunes at the harpsichord. He set Shakespeare’s “It Was a Lover and His Lass” (from “As You Like It”) to music, thinking that “it would be the ultimate disaster to have an appalling singer sing those immortal words.”
Disney execs “wanted the score to have a classic feel to it, a timeless quality,” Doyle says. “That’s what I strove for. I wanted to honor the tradition.