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About George Fenton
After transitioning from writing music for the dramatic stage, British composer/conductor George Fenton became a celebrated film and television scorer, winning his first BAFTA TV Award in 1982. A first-time Academy Award nomination followed a year later for Gandhi, a collaboration with Ravi Shankar. Fenton later earned Oscar and Grammy nominations in the song category for the title track to Cry Freedom (1987). Alternately wistful, playful, and rousing, his work in film and TV went on to include such diverse titles as Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Groundhog Day (1993), and the nature series The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). Featuring his complex, majestic orchestral scoring, the latter two won Fenton both BAFTA and Emmy Awards. Frozen Planet (2011) was among his other projects for the BBC as he continued to provide original music for movies such as Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem (2013), frequent collaborator Nicholas Hytner's The Lady in the Van (2015), and the Liam Neeson vehicle Cold Pursuit (2019). Fenton has also scored well over a dozen films for arthouse director Ken Loach.
Born George Richard Ian Howe in Bromley, Kent, Fenton sang in church choirs as a boy and started playing the guitar at age seven. He studied music while attending St. Edward's School in Oxford, but, though he later taught composition at the Royal College of Music and the University of Nottingham, he had no university-level training of his own. He changed his name to George Fenton while pursuing acting roles in the late '60s to avoid confusion with another actor. Frequently asked by directors to play musical instruments on various projects, he gradually filled a demand for musicians and composers. During the '70s, he penned music for such esteemed British theater directors as Richard Eyre, Peter Gill, and Adrian Noble, winning BAFTA and Ivor Novello awards for his compositions in the process. His work in theater led to broadcasts for the BBC and ITV, and by the early '80s, he was juggling scripted TV series (Fox, Shoestring), made-for-TV movies, and drama anthology series (BBC2 Playhouse).
Fenton's big-screen breakout came with Best Picture Oscar-winner Gandhi, released in late 1982. He composed its score with legendary Indian musician Ravi Shankar, a collaboration that resulted in Academy Award and BAFTA nominations. More Oscar nominations followed for Fenton's work with Jonas Gwangwa on 1987's Cry Freedom (for both song and score) and for his sole composer credits on 1988's Dangerous Liaisons and 1991's The Fisher King.
The 1994 docu-drama Ladybird Ladybird (composed with Mauricio Venegas) launched a long-running partnership with independent-film director Ken Loach. The same year, he delivered The Madness of King George, his first of many collaborations with director Nicholas Hytner. They followed it later in the '90s with an adaptation of The Crucible (1996) and the romantic comedy The Object of My Affection (1998).
In the 2000s, in addition to turning in scores for over a half-dozen more Loach films, Fenton took home BAFTA and Emmy Awards for his work on the popular BBC nature documentary epics The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). Meanwhile, he scored a big-screen adaptation of The History Boys (2006) for Hytner, returning to the big screen for 2008's Fool's Gold, among other film projects. More nature documentaries, including Life (2009) and Frozen Planet (2011), soon followed. He scored theater for the silver screen in 2012 with National Theatre Live: People, and after films including The Zero Theorem (2013) and DisneyNature's Bears (2014), his original music for the Hytner film The Lady in the Van hit screens in 2015. Still working regularly with Loach, Fenton composed the score for his 2016 film I, Daniel Baker as well as 2019's Sorry We Missed You. ~ Marcy Donelson
- Bromley, Kent, England
- 19 Oct 1949