John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme is an old fashioned romantic comedy. It took me a while to adjust to its warmth because of how separated these people feel from the outside world. With a stellar cast including Jamie Dornan, Emily Blunt, and Christopher Walker, Wild Mountain Thyme shifts focus to Shanley’s words and the emotions that come from Amelia Warner’s lithe and spry score. The music has a sense of humor all its own even though it recalls traditional musical themes we think we know.
Warner immediately connected with Shanley’s script and she told me about a few instances where she wanted to include music where there originally wasn’t any. Thyme has a tricky tone, and Warner acknowledges that the film’s fluidity was a big challenge that she was looking to tackle. This is a love story between two people (Dornan and Blunt) who have known each other since they were kids. Now with a land dispute looming large, they have to figure out how to deal with their own emotions in order to be happy living close to one another. The stakes for these two are high but we, as the audience, get to enjoy watching them untangle everything.
Warner scores Thyme with a delicate hand. She knows that she can’t be overbearing because it would unbalance Shanley’s gentle direction but she needs to steep this story in history of the land and the history that these characters have with one another. The score is lovely and soothing partner to Shanley’s script.
Awards Daily: Since John Patrick Shanley adapted his own play and he directed it, what conversations did he have with you about the music? I think this had to have been a tricky film to nail down in terms of tone.
Amelia Warner: I think that you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head. One of the biggest challenges was to find the right tone and there was some work to find that middle ground and make it all work. Actually, to be honest, my initial conversation with John were super brief. Early on, I pitched some music because I loved the script. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it got under my skin. I wrote a couple of themes and John heard them and he said, ‘You’ve got the sound. You know what this movie is.’ I had this music and they put it to picture and they thought it was working really well. By the time I came onto it, the initial themes were working so it was a question to push them further. It was a nice position to be in and I just had to deliver more.
AD: Once you get the tone, it has to be easier to get into the groove, I imagine?
AM: There are some different elements that gave me other challenges. I think I understood the romantic nature of it, but there’s also the comedy and the folk aspect and the Irish aspect which were tricky too. Having those themes really helped.
AD: With the Irish themes, how did you want to specifically harken to that style of music?
AW: It had to have a traditional Irish element to it. It would’ve been too weird if we didn’t, you know?
AW: It’s set in Ireland so it needs that music but there’s the fear of pushing it into that pub music or music that appears in a commercial to visit Ireland on vacation. I listened to a lot of that kind of music and I spent a lot of time there and there are some elements, like the fiddle, that are Irish. The challenge was to make it authentic and not add a lot of whistles to it.
AD: There’s a warmth to the music that I really responded to.
AW: There was this amazing local fiddle player that brought so much energy to it. We just had a little band of accordion, clarinet, double bass, and the fiddle and that was our setup. The accordion is in almost every cue so the all the orchestral cues with the strings, there’s always an accordion in there. We wanted to have the violin to have a folk feeling so it wouldn’t feel too polished. It’s hard because people are really familiar with Irish music so it’s everyone has an idea of what it sounds like. You want to fulfill that but you also want to take them into a new place with the music.
AD: There is a scene between Christopher [Walken] and Jamie [Dornan] where Christopher says, ‘Am I proud of you too late, son?’ and that really broke my heart.
AD: Can you talk a little about the arrangement of music in that moment?
AW: That one is the song “Wild Mountain Thyme” so that was an orchestration of that. In some ways, we identify that song as Christopher’s character’s theme since it reminds him of his wife. It’s kind of his music. In some ways, the job was kind of done so it wasn’t about writing a new melody. We wanted to take that in a little bit of a different direction but there is a lot of dialogue in that scene as well. A lot of it is underscore but keep it out of the way but make it pop when it needs to. It’s a beautiful arrangement that my orchestrator did.
AD: I had never heard that song before this movie.
AW: It’s beautiful and it really gets you.
AD: It got me so I felt it. There is a cue that feels different than all of the other music in the film after Anthony gets off the phone towards the end of the film. There’s a different pulse in that cue than in the other traditional Irish musical cues?
AW: That was so much fun to write. Reel five has no music. There’s twenty minutes with no music when Emily [Blunt] and Jamie are in the house together. To get to that point, where you know there’s this dialogue heavy scene, you need to propel them into it. I wanted it to push momentum and let it build so when they are in the room together you know it’s showtime. The temp music they had on there was “The Flying Dutchman” and I knew John thought that it worked really well. It took a lot of conversations for the to license that but I really wanted to try and write something that worked. The fact that that original music worked so well, it meant that it couldn’t go too far and it couldn’t be too big. It couldn’t be too melodramatic and that’s a really fun way to write. I went for it really and went as big as I could and tried to do something fun. John kept reminding me that it’s melodrama so it has to be so dramatic that it’s funny. I’m really happy with it.
AD: It’s borderline absurd at that point because Jamie is huffing around and he goes outside with the metal detector.
AW: And the coat.
AD: Yes! And Emily is hearing his name being called.
AW: We wanted to do some Timpani drums and cymbals crashing and the storm is coming in. It’s so brilliantly ordinary with Emily sitting there with her breakfast and Jamie is marching around and I found it so funny. Once I had that fiddle motif that just repeats and repeats, I wanted it to set your teeth on edge. I wanted it to start with this energy and once we got that, it was all about layering. We added strings and we wanted to make so much drama.
AD: I love the scene between Jamie and Emily in the car where he says, “I think I’m a bee.” They’re trapped in a car together and they are releasing all these emotions out and the music enhances that.
AW: I loved that cue. Originally there was no temp there. No music. It was one of the ones where I watched the scene and I asked to try something. They never experimented with music in that moment. Suddenly you’re in a car and banging around with lots of dialogue and I wanted to add some extra momentum. They are responding to one another and they are like hits in a boxing match so it’s these huge truths being dropped. Each moment can have a musical hit and it can be funny. It’s not funny to them but it is for us. The music slightly lifts it.
AD: As we are talking about this movie, I am really digging how old fashioned it is.
AW: It’s really old fashioned. I love that about it. It has a really classic feeling to it to the point when you see Rose in New York, it’s jarring. She’s out of her own world and you are part of it when you see her out there.
AD: You co-wrote an original song with John that is sung by Sinead O’Connor on the credits. The film has a lot of musical elements with the title song and then Swan Lake is heard throughout. Tell me about that experience.
AW: It was, to be honest, never planned. It was just thig organic thing that just happened. The producers were talking about maybe doing a song. Weirdly when I wrote the cue with the piano, John just loved it. He kept saying it sounded like an introduction to a song and because he hard that cue, he wrote some lyrics to the tune. He sent them to me and I tried it out and it felt like a natural step. Then Sinead coming on to sing it and that’s a bonus. She’s such an icon.
AD: There was a lot of press paid towards Hildur Guðnadóttir this year when she won an Emmy for Chernobyl and then an Oscar for Joker. She became only the fourth woman to win the Oscar for Best Original Score and we are continuing to have conversations about women being brought in for jobs in every field. Do you think that this male-dominated field is getting the same attention in terms of broadening those opportunities?
AW: It’s unquestionably male-dominated. I think the figures are 2% of composers are women, but that might have gone up slightly since last year. It’s a problem. I think it’s being addressed and there are people out there doing amazing things like the Alliance of Women Composers. The most important thing, that I can think of to change it, is visibility. Seeing Hildur win the Oscar and then to see other women on panels. Hopefully seeing that inspires filmmakers to have confidence and also the next generation of musicians see that as a viable option for them. If people see women being hired. I just didn’t think there was space for me. It’s only from seeing other women pave the way makes you think that you can do it too. For some reason, composing just seems to fall through the cracks a bit, and I don’t know why. Is it because it is one of the last things and they just want to get it done or they don’t have the confidence to give it someone they aren’t familiar with? They might want to make sure it’s in safe hands. I’m not sure. You often see that female dominant films and female dominant crews have composers that are often male. I don’t know what the answer is. It shouldn’t only be the responsibility of women hiring other women. It needs to be across the board. It’s important that we keep talking about it.
Wild Mountain Thyme is now available to rent on Amazon.