15 February 2020 06:31
Isobel Waller-Bridge on sister Phoebe's Fleabag, composing for 'Emma' and the visibility of female composers Isobel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. We speak to the 'Emma' composer about writing for characters, the "two-pronged excitement" of seeing more women in the film industry and working with sister Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the monumentally successful 'Fleabag'. Meet Isobel Waller-Bridge, 34, English composer and the brains behind that neo-Renaissance, choral theme woven through her younger sister Phoebe's comedy series, Fleabag. She's previously called working with her sibling "the dreamiest collaboration" saying, "I honestly can't tell you how much fun it is to work with your best mate." Phoebe has called the famous 'haircut' scene in Season 2 a 'love letter' to real-life sister Isobel. "It's weirdly wonderful for me and Phoebe that we can work together," she tells Classic FM.
"Music always comes from a truthful place for me, but it's particularly fun when it's your sibling. Read more: Phoebe Waller-Bridge's real-life sister wrote the Fleabag soundtrack> Phoebe Waller-Bridge with "hot priest" Andrew Scott in Fleabag. Waller-Bridge's latest project, a film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, sees her writing yet more vocal music. "I really love listening to vocal music but writing it… Fleabag was my first outing in that way. But with Emma and with Fleabag, it was really important to be able to show a humanity behind those protagonists.
And it felt like vocal music in those cases was going to really help us do that." Emma has been done before, of course – most famously by protagonist Gwyneth Paltrow, with an Oscar-winning soundtrack from Rachel Portman, which Waller-Bridge describes as "iconic". "It's the best," she says. "But because of who Autumn [de Wilde – the director] is, it was always going to be a very unique thing. It was never going to be like Rachel's score." In fact, Waller-Bridge's score goes completely against what you'd expect from an Austen adaptation. "When I first spoke to Autumn, she had said to me that one of her favourite pieces of music is Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. We talked about personifying these instruments, and agreed that every character in Emma should have their own theme and instrument." Watching Emma – which stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the socialite protagonist – the music is one of the first things you notice. Pieces of operatic and vocal folk music are used between scenes, creating a playful atmosphere that wasn't there in the 1996 version. That's why we wanted the music to spot even the tiniest bits of detail like an eyebrow raise. Music has always been present in Waller-Bridge's life. "Then I had wonderful teachers and was always encouraged at home to play and perform, and then I just started writing. Just for a short film, but I really loved it. Storytelling in music, I've always loved." In previous interviews, Waller-Bridge has mentioned a particular affinity to Mahler's music. I feel like such a nerd when I talk about this, but I came to 'cooler' music much later. "I was a really serious pianist and with classical music, I was just listening to Rimsky-Korsakov and Mahler and Stravinsky for ages. It was only when I got into sixth form at school that I started listening to other things. It's really important to me, classical music. "What was really joyful about Emma was that because I'd already listened to Peter and the Wolf and Britten's Young Person Guide to the Orchestra and Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition for pleasure, when I first met with Autumn I could say 'I know exactly what you're talking about and exactly what you mean'. Emma stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn. Waller-Bridge's musical background is, by all accounts, traditional. She began the transition to film and TV music, she says, after meeting other young musicians at the Academy who were all composing atonal music. "When I started talking about film music, there was a bit of a ruffling of feathers. Waller-Bridge, whose other credits include Amazon series Vanity Fair and 2018 feature film Vita & Virginia, has been described as "one of the UK's most exciting young composers". But box her in at your peril, as – she says – "I've never wanted to be just a film composer. It's a two-pronged exciting thing: you've got all these fantastic women, who are also showing themselves to be really versatile." It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen was invented somewhere somehow to inflict untold misery on countless generations of schoolboys. In truth, if you are an Austen fan, you will love this new adaptation of one of her classics. When Emma is forced to reassess her behaviour, at last the film begins to get slightly more interesting. But it's reaching that point that's the chore. Until then, Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma, scheming and plotting, is a bit of a yawn, with her knowing, pouty looks increasingly annoying… none of it helped by a ladle-it-on soundtrack which jauntily tells us 'This is funny bit…. Discover the 2020 Chichester Festival Theatre summer season The 2020 Chichester Festival Theatre summer season in detail In pictures - see who's coming to Brighton Festival Great programme coming up at Worthing's newest music venue