2021 gave us composer Harry Gregson-Williams’s fourth and fifth films with legendary director Ridley Scott. In House of Gucci, Gregson-Williams’s score primarily focuses on externalizing the inner story of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). He also needed to work around the needle drops of period pop music that Scott leverages throughout the film.
But Gregson-Williams’s work on Scott’s The Last Duel emerged as a completely different experience.
Scott’s film unfolds during the Middle Ages, so naturally, there are no needle drops. There are no pop songs, and Gregson-Williams’s score needed to reflect sounds and instrumentation adjacent to that period. But he did not limit himself to what was available during the time.
“Obviously, this is set in medieval times. You don’t take the audience out of that, but you don’t have to stick to it either. You still should be able to do what you want to do,” Gregson-Williams-Williams explained. “I’m not earning any prizes for true authenticity, but it’s really about storytelling. Otherwise, I probably would have been left with some wooden flutes and a drum. I was able to create a sonic tapestry that really suited the purposes of the story and the characters that I wanted to bring to life.”
On The Last Duel, Gregson-Williams faced an enormous challenge given its medieval setting. It also faced a situation in which the score would be recorded during the COVID-19 international lockdown. Given that, the inspiration for the score stemmed from conversations around how Scott wanted to end the film. He wanted to end it with a song, and Gregson-Williams used text from the period that he modified and built a melody around.
That initial song then evolved into a theme for Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) that would be used in different forms throughout the film.
Themes for the other major characters evolved based on their personal attributes. For Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), the score took on an heroic, militaristic tone with war-like percussion and wordless voices. That approach contrasts with Jacques Le Gris’s (Adam Driver) theme which is more dark and imposing. As the film boasts a three-act structure (each section taking a different perspective on the central story), the score focuses on the themes most closely associated with the focal point of the narrative.
Typical of their collaboration, Scott guided Gregson-Williams through the score in terms of what he needed for the film, rather than outright dictation. That approach, over their now five films together, is one that Gregson-Williams finds extraordinarily rewarding as a composer. He finds that Scott speaks in painterly terms of texture, color, light, darkness, and tone.
“I think we definitely speak the same language. He’s an artist at heart, and if you were to freeze-frame any of his films, you’d get a beautiful picture up on the screen. His movies suck up music. He knows the power of music. He knows I respect that too.”
That mutual respect for the power of film composition leads them both down an incredibly fulfilling journey culminating in brilliant works such as The Last Duel.
The Last Duel is now available on Digital and releases on Blu-ray/DVD December 14th.