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HENRY V – Patrick Doyle


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1989 Kenneth Branagh was a brash, handsome, dazzlingly talented young actor and director, who emerged from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the early 1980s and set the British theatrical world alight with his electrifying Shakespearean productions. He was part of a group of talented contemporaries which included people like Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Rowan Atkinson, all of whom began to have a profound effect on British stage society through their respective careers in drama and comedy. Branagh then went on to create the Renaissance Theatre Company, which brought his troupe of players into the circle of beloved stage veterans like Judi Dench, Richard Briers, Derek Jacobi, and Sir John Gielgud. Together they made enormously successful stage productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, the latter of which directly led to Branagh receiving funding to make a big-screen adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works, Henry V.

William Shakespeare completed Henry V in 1599. It tells the story of King Henry V of England, focusing on events immediately before and after the 1415 Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, in which the forces of the English house of Plantagenet fought against the French house of Valois for the right to control France. It was the final part of Shakespeare’s Henriad series that also looked at the lives of the English Kings Richard II and Henry IV, and is considered one of the Bard’s most ambitious plays, as it acts not only as a chronicle of the real events of Henry’s life, but is also a personal treatise on the moral complexity of war. Branagh plays the title role, Derek Jacobi is the ever-present chorus narrator, and it features Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, Alec McCowen, and Judi Dench in prominent supporting roles. The film revitalized the formerly stuffy Shakespearean costume drama genre, enlivening the intricate prose with powerful emotion and intense action that brought the story bursting into life for contemporary audiences. It was an enormous critical success too, earning Branagh Best Actor and Best Director Oscar nominations, alongside six BAFTA nominations.

One of the hitherto unheralded members of the Renaissance Theatre Company was a young actor named Patrick Doyle. Hailing from an industrial Scottish town just south of Glasgow, he studied both acting and music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He spent much of the early 1980s as a jobbing actor in England; he had a bit part in Chariots of Fire in 1981, and then spent a season as one of the leads of a Saturday morning kids TV show called ‘Number 73,’ where one of his most memorable skits was of him trying to eat ice cream on a rollercoaster in the seaside resort of Margate. Eventually Doyle joined Renaissance in 1987 and, having been classically trained, quickly became its music director. As such, when Branagh started work on Henry V, Doyle was hired to write the score; the end result is now considered to be one of the most impressive film music debuts in cinematic history, rivaled perhaps only by Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane, and one or two others.

Doyle’s Henry V is an enormous orchestral and choral epic of great power and drama. Performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the great conductor Sir Simon Rattle, Doyle’s score is simply sensational, a multi-themed blockbuster which – in the words of Branagh himself – grows to epic proportions: thunderous, full-blooded, and heroic in size. There are actually an astonishing seven recurring themes in the score, each of which perform a specific purpose. ‘Henry’s Fanfare’ is an explosion of trumpets which speaks to the regal nature of the king; the related ‘Henry’s Theme’ is a more reserved piece, usually arranged for clarinets and oboes backed by strings, which speaks to the more thoughtful side of the man as he uses his intellect and shrewdness to navigate the political machinations of the royal court to achieve his aims.

The ‘War Motif’ is a bed of relentless, restless string figures that swoop between violins and cellos, churning and undulating, often accompanied by an array of agitated drums. The ‘Victory Theme’ is exactly what you would expect it to be – a patriotic, rousing, noble anthem that celebrates Henry’s English heritage and spurs his troops to glory. The ‘Memory Theme’ is a little less obvious, a quiet and slightly introspective piece that plays on Henry’s nostalgic memories of his past relationships (as explored in earlier Shakespeare plays) which tends to come to the fore when Henry is grieving the deaths of old friends. The love theme for Emma Thompson’s character, Katherine of France, is often overlooked by Doyle aficionados as it tends to be overshadowed by the rest of the score, but it’s still one of his loveliest romantic melodies, a gorgeous lilting piece for swooning strings and lush woodwinds.

However, the centerpiece of the score is clearly Doyle’s setting of ‘Non Nobis Domine,’ the Latin lyrics of which are taken from Psalm 115 from the bible, and read ‘non nobis domine, domine, non nobis domine, sed nomini, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam’. Legend has it that the real Henry V ordered it sung on the battlefield immediately following his victory at Agincourt, such was his desire to praise God for his triumph. The melody, which is brand new and unique to this score, is rousing, celebratory, and unforgettable, one of the most glorious compositions of Doyle’s entire career.

The score, as it unfolds, interweaves these themes constantly, often playing them in counterpoint to one another to illustrate a specific point; these are joined by an array of dark, brooding textures that emphasize the seriousness of the story and the high stakes involved for everyone. To illustrate this, Doyle often uses woodwinds playing at their lowest registers – deeply-hued English horns, clarinets, and bassoons, alongside low French horns, cellos, and basses grinding away down in the depths. The opening cue, “Opening Title/O! For a Muse of Fire,” is a perfect example of this, as it moves backwards and forwards between a bed of renaissance-style woodwinds, a devilish flurry of grinding cellos, and moody statements of the Non Nobis theme beginning at 0:55. Subtle electronics underpin Derek Jacobi’s opening narration, in an unexpected textural departure.

The initial statements of Henry’s Fanfare and Henry’s Theme trill into life at the beginning of “Henry V Theme/The Boar’s Head,” which also allows the first statement of the War Motif at 0:48 as several of Henry’s advisors collude while visiting a tavern, and agree to influence him into provoking a war with France. “The Three Traitors “ is more low key, featuring expressive orchestral writing augmented by synths and metallic and wooden percussion, but builds to an intense finale as Henry proves his talent for manipulation as he tricks three traitors into essentially signing their own death warrants. “Now, Lords, for France!” offers a a more low key statement of Henry’s theme, mostly for oboe and clarinet backed by strings, but gradually morphs into a new statement of the War Motif as Henry reveals his plans for battle to his court. The subsequent “The Death of Falstaff” offers the first iteration of the Memory Theme, which is characterized by sorrowful but elegant string writing, and a warm horn countermelody that is nostalgic and redolent of better times.

“Once More Unto the Breach” is the first of the major set-pieces, underscoring the scene where Henry rallies his troops into battle with one of Shakespeare’s most stirring speeches, prior to their attack on the city of Harfleur. The cue moves smoothly between increasingly inspiring statements of Henry’s Theme, Henry’s Fanfare, and the War Motif, building from a subtle woodwind opening until it is overtly passionate and rousing. An enormous statement of the Non Nobis theme for heraldic brass ends the cue on a glorious note, as it segues into the three-part cue “The Threat to the Governor of Harfleur/Katherine of France/The March to Calais”. The first part is a dark version of Henry’s Theme on insidious-sounding woodwinds underpinned by brass, which grows more powerful and dominant as the horns take over the melody. The introduction of the Love Theme for Katherine briefly allows a lighter tone to emerge, and there are some pretty allusions to period church music in some of the chord progressions. The conclusive March takes the Non Nobis theme and militarizes it with a snare drum tattoo, and then offers a contrapuntal placement of Henry’s Theme which comes across as agitated, and perhaps a little chaotic.

“The Death of Bardolph” returns to the Memory Theme but imbues it with a sense of treasonous darkness, with percussive death rattles and a slow, intense version of the War Motif for low brass. The subsequent “Upon the King” underscores the scene where Henry – in disguise – wanders among his troops, gaining their trust but also learning about the men he is likely sending to their death in battle. There is a hint of folk music to the pastoral woodwinds, while the inquisitive and slightly mysterious sequence for a repetitive figure seems to be a sort-of motif for ‘Henry’s Connection to his People,’ and his growing sense of responsibility to and affection for them. There are regular references to the Non Nobis theme, Henry’s Theme, and Henry’s Fanfare too, as well as a couple of brief quotes of what sounds like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at 2:31 and 2:58, which are likely nothing more than unintentional curios.

The centerpiece of the entire score is the “St. Crispin’s Day/The Battle of Agincourt” sequence, which even today remains one of the most powerful things Doyle has ever written. It opens with a nervous salvo of snare and kettle drums, warlike and intense, a prelude to the battle; when the orchestra joins it gives the cue a new dimension of depth and scope, giving power to the drums with great, slicing string figures. Henry’s Victory Theme is introduced for the first time at 2:29, and over the course of the next two minutes it gradually increases in scope and intensity until it explodes with emotion at 4:14, just as Henry urges his troops to victory with Shakespeare’s legendary St Crispin’s Day speech. The battle begins in earnest at 4:38 with the return of the War Motif, and thereafter jumps between it, the Victory Theme, and more sequences of percussive action. The most brutal volley of drumbeat intensity begins at 8:14, and it’s simply staggering, featuring astonishingly creative interplay between the percussion, pizzicato strings, and all the different elements of the woodwind and brass sections. The ‘Henry’s Troops’ motif from “Upon the King” returns towards the end of the cue, as Henry has the tragic realization that the men he had drunk and joked with the night before now lay dying on his behalf. The whole thing concludes with an enormous, overwhelmingly heartrending orchestral statement of Non Nobis Domine as Henry surveys the carnage on the battlefield.

The Victory Theme returns in “The Day is Yours,” played solemnly for horns with a relieved, but warm-hearted aspect, as Henry’s Agincourt victory is secured. This is followed by what many consider to be the highlight of the score, the first fully choral version of “Non Nobis, Domine,” which begins with Doyle himself singing a cappella, and gradually sees the orchestra and full choir join him in glorious, religious majesty. “The Wooing of Katherine” is a longer exploration of the love theme, and Let This Acceptance Take” returns to perform a final statement of the Victory theme, before the “End Title” performs the second and final choral statement of Non Nobis Domine to bring the album to a close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Henry V is now considered one of the greatest debut scores in cinematic history, and it’s not difficult to see why. The fact that Patrick Doyle was just 36 years old when he wrote this, and had never in his wildest dreams wielded musical forces of this magnitude in his career before, really brings home just what a staggering achievement this was for him. Henry V score introduced the world to a brand new musical voice, and although Doyle would go on to write a number of brilliant works over the next three decades – my favorites include Dead Again, Indochine, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sense and Sensibility, Hamlet, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, among many others – they all trace their lineage back here to this first breakthrough work. With its mass of outstanding themes, powerful emotion, intense action, and recurring feeling of dark and brooding drama, this was one of the best scores of 1989, and demands to be a part of every serious film music fan’s collection.

Buy the Henry V soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Title/O! For a Muse of Fire (3:34)
  • Henry V Theme/The Boar’s Head (2:46)
  • The Three Traitors (2:03)
  • Now, Lords, for France! (2:40)
  • The Death of Falstaff (1:54)
  • Once More Unto the Breach (3:45)
  • The Threat to the Governor of Harfleur/Katherine of France/The March to Calais (5:51)
  • The Death of Bardolph (2:22)
  • Upon the King (4:50)
  • St. Crispin’s Day/The Battle of Agincourt (14:13)
  • The Day is Yours (2:34)
  • Non Nobis, Domine (4:09)
  • The Wooing of Katherine (2:24)
  • Let This Acceptance Take (2:50)
  • End Title (2:35)

Running Time: 59 minutes 16 seconds

EMI Classics 0777749919 (1989)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by Simon Rattle. Performed by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Stephen Hill Singers. Orchestrations by Lawrence Ashmore. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble. Edited by Graham Sutton. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

    May 22, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for this information, particularly re Patrick Doyle. His music is so haunting; it feels as though I have ALWAYS known it and yet don’t know where or how. I was moved to find out through your article that it was he who began the song in the movie — could anything be more fittingly beautiful!
    I am eternally grateful to Kenneth Branagh for embarking in the creation and completion of this glorious collaboration of devotion and artistry. It is an unforgettable classic of a movie from the pen of the great William Shakespeare himself. Mr Branagh, along with all who worked with him in it, did W.S. justice for we are carried into the majesty of his message effortlessly and mystically.

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