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Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Official Soundtrack for The Mercy is Out Today

For immediate release

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Official Soundtrack for The Mercy is Out Today


02 February 2018 (Toronto, ON) - Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s latest film score sees the renewal of his successful relationship with British director James Marsh. His compelling score for The Mercy helps convey the inner workings of a complex mind. The film tells the incredible true story of Donald Crowhurst and his journey from dreams of adventure and glory to darkness and despair. The soundtrack is out today via Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Canada, the country’s leading music company. Listen HERE.

Solitary hero fighting the power of nature or foolhardy chancer? Donald Crowhurst, whose attempt to sail alone around the world ended in tragedy, was both. The story of his sea voyage and the financial mess that drove an amateur sailor to compete in a doomed race for glory has inspired poets, playwrights, and novelists ever since Crowhurst’s abandoned boat was found in the summer of 1969. It is now the subject of a new film directed by James Marsh and with a haunting score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. The British director and Icelandic composer were keen to join forces again having first worked together on The Theory of Everything, Marsh’s biographical drama based on the life of Stephen Hawking. In 2015, Jóhannsson’s critically acclaimed score for the film won the Golden Globe and received Oscar®, BAFTA, Grammy® and Critics’ Choice nominations.

The Mercy depicts one man’s inner psychological drama being played out on an epic scale, a portrait intensified by Jóhannsson’s score. His music complements the different sides of Donald Crowhurst (played by Oscar-winner Colin Firth), from lovable optimist and English eccentric to troubled fantasist and deluded soul. The soundtrack combines original pieces with works from the Icelandic composer’s catalogue including tracks from Orphée, Englabörn, Free the Mind, and Copenhagen Dreams.

The idea of revisiting earlier work has borne further fruit: this spring DG will also release Englabörn & Variations, a double album consisting of a remastered version of Jóhannsson’s very first solo album and Variations. The latter is a collection of re-workings by the acclaimed Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, ambient music duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Hildur Guðnadóttir, as well as by Jóhannsson himself, including a piano version of the title track for fellow DG artist Víkingur Ólafsson.

Englabörn grew in part from Jóhannsson’s fascination with opposition and contrast, an area that attracted him to The Mercy as well. “Here was a period drama set in England in the late 1960s,” notes the composer, “but with a dark side to it. I was fascinated by the story which recalls the heroism and the hubris you find in ancient myth. Crowhurst is a compelling character. It was enjoyable for me to balance the beginning of the film, where there are scenes with his family and we sense the growing anticipation of this extraordinary journey, with the second half, where things grow quite dark. It was fun to work with James on a darker subject than The Theory of Everything.”

“I think island nations have a special relationship with the sea,” he adds. “Britain ruled its waves for centuries. For us Icelanders, the sea gives and the sea takes. It commands respect. Icelanders have never, as far as I know, been very keen on competitive marine sports. Perhaps because of the respect we have for the ocean. Books about rescue at sea are a publishing staple however, are regularly seen on our bestseller lists. Although we are a nation of sailors, ambitions of empire-building were far from our reach, thankfully, until recently – and then they appeared in the form of misguided and best-forgotten financial shenanigans. I think Crowhurst’s hubris can be reflected to some extent in that sad chapter in our history. In one of my recent conversations with James, I mentioned that as a foreign observer, my feeling was that Britain’s current path resembled Crowhurst´s more and more with each passing day. James had noticed the same analogy.”

The composer also points out that The Mercy is no swashbuckling tale of maritime heroism: “Quite the contrary. There are no echoes of Korngold or the other brass-laden scores that grace so many filmed adventures at sea.” For Jóhannsson, the film is less about the sea and more about Crowhurst’s inner state of mind: the fears and anxieties that built up as he set sail; the web of lies he and his cavalier publicist wove to falsify his position in the Golden Globe Race; the desperate descent into despair and madness brought on by 240 solitary days at sea. “That was the brief James gave me and I followed it as we see Crowhurst slowly going mad.”

Matching music to Donald Crowhurst’s turbulent psyche proved both challenging and ultimately rewarding. “I am so lucky to be offered projects like The Mercy that allow creative freedom,” recalls Jóhannsson. “I try to do something in every soundtrack that I haven’t done before; I try to make it into an opportunity to explore fresh avenues. You always learn something new with every film.”