When it came to scoring “Herself,” composer Natalie Holt and director Phyllida Lloyd soon realized that less was more. The Amazon film stars Clare Dunne, who also co-wrote the script, as Sandra, a mother of two who leaves her abusive husband to start a new life with her daughters. When the housing system fails her, she decides to build her own house.
“I was asked to join the film because I had scored an Irish TV series and Phyllida really liked kind of the melodic, slightly Irish-sounding music I had done with that because I’m a violinist, and it was quite sort of stringy and emotional,” Holt tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Film Composers panel (watch above). “So I think we were kind of initially going to do more of a leading score, which got quite stripped back because I think we decided we wanted to do something more subtle that just supported what was going on in a simple way, almost like the music was part of the feeling.”
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Holt, who primarily used a viola for the score, actually composed longer melodic cues before stripping them back. The most memorable motif throughout the film is a caustic vibration that plays whenever Sandra’s PTSD is triggered. “That noise was just me making this really painful sound with my viola and then slowing it down and processing it,” she reveals. “Phyllida was like, ‘Oh, it sounds like this womb kind of noise.’ We had all these funny terms, like the ‘womb sound’ or ‘the PTSD.’ ‘The PTSD’ was kind of an uncomfortable, electronic, glitchy sound.”
An Emmy nominee for “Victoria,” Holt also composed a song, “The Lass of Aughrim,” that Sandra sings during a significant scene in the third act. “The song kind of transfers over from Sandra to kind of everyone. It becomes a song for everyone in a way for anyone who’s been abused or a victim of domestic violence and just sits over top of this pivotal moment in the movie,” she says. “It was unusual for me to write a song that was in a film in that way, but that was what kind of happened [after discussions with] Phyllida.”
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