Composer Christopher Willis has been presented with the 2020 International Film Music Critics Association Awards for Score of the Year and Best Original Score for a Comedy by IFMCA members Jon Broxton and Craig Lysy. Willis’s wins were for his score for the outstanding adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic The Personal Life of David Copperfield, directed by Armando Iannucci, starring Dev Patel, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, and Tilda Swinton.
The other nominees in the Score of the Year category were The Call of the Wild by John Powell, Enola Holmes by Daniel Pemberton, Fukushima 50 by Tarō Iwashiro, and Wonder Woman 1984 by Hans Zimmer. The other nominees in the Comedy category were An American Pickle by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad, Emma by Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer, Godmothered by Rachel Portman, and Wild Mountain Thyme by Amelia Warner.
These are Willis’s second and third IFMCA Awards, from five nominations. He won the Comedy Score award in 2017 for The Death of Stalin, was also nominated for Breakthrough Composer that year, and was nominated for Composer of the Year this year in 2020, with that award eventually going to Daniel Pemberton.
Willis was born in Brighton, England, in 1978. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, and is a musicologist specializing in eighteenth-century music, especially that of Domenico Scarlatti. Throughout his academic career Willis was always a composer too, and he began his film music career in 2006 working with fellow Englishman Rupert Gregson-Williams on scores such as Over the Hedge, Click, and Bee Movie; he later went on to write additional music for a number of major blockbuster features including The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with Harry Gregson-Williams in 2008, X-Men: Origins – Wolverine with HGW again in 2009, X-Men: First Class with Henry Jackman in 2011, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part II with Carter Burwell in 2012, prior to making his solo theatrical debut for The Death of Stalin in 2017.
More recently Willis has worked extensively in television, with a special focus on animation. He worked as an additional composer on the hit HBO comedy series Veep, before becoming lead composer on several projects for Disney, including a new series of Mickey Mouse shorts beginning in 2013, the Lion King spinoff series The Lion Guard for Disney Junior beginning in 2016, and the Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse for the Disney Channel in 2020. In 2021 Willis also wrote the original score for the Apple+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon! with showrunner and songwriter Cinco Paul.
In describing the score for The Personal Life of David Copperfield, IFMCA member Florent Groult called it a “luminous neo-romantic mini symphony,” while his colleague Olivier Desbrosses called it an “inspired score that in no way seeks to hide its many nods to the great masters of classical music,” and features “sensational orchestrations and constant elegance.” Similarly, IFMCA member Jon Broxton said the score was “the music of an idealized England; the contrast between the bustling streets of London and a more languid life in the countryside, the distinct beauty of its sun-kissed fields and its rugged sea shores, the depiction of lords and ladies and gentlemen, scoundrels and thieves, high society and common folk, and the way that this most profound of literary protagonists weaves his way through it all … there is not a dull moment … there is not a moment where Willis is not taking the time to say something interesting with his music – presenting a new theme, a variation on an existing one, or painting a vivid musical picture of this specific time and place.”
See below for the photos from the presentation:
With special thanks to Elyse Willis.