This post is very heavy on pictures – because I LOVE the details, and fairly light on commentary – because so much has already been written about Sandy Powell’s amazing designs. As I’m an information magpie/squirrel who loves to share, I’m including links to an eclectic assortment of articles connected to the film and the outfits – see end of post.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the film, it’s set in the early 1700s during the reign of Queen Anne (played by Olivia Coleman) – sister of Mary, as in ‘William and Mary’ – and the last of the Stuart monarchs. Queen Anne is plagued by ill health and the tragic loss of all her children. Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) is Anne’s formidable friend, and, essentially, proxy ruler of the realm. Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) is a distant cousin of Lady Sarah who has fallen on hard times and is determined to improve her circumstances. Rather deliciously these women are the power players and the men are (mostly) their pawns.
Their costumes reflect this – Sarah and Abigail in particular are mostly make-up free, hair relatively simple, pared back and ready for business in their styling; they are women in control (or gaining control). The men are bewigged and slightly ridiculous – especially the looming bully Lord Harley – and they break up the monotone with splashes of colour to indicate their political affiliations, red for Whigs, blue for Tories.
Powell’s designs give a flavour of the period without being weighed down by over-earnest authenticity, and join the screenplay and cinematography in making the characters feel immediate and contemporary. The mix of historic silhouettes and modern fabrics, including copious (and very effective) use of laser-cut vinyl as lace, and the ways in which some of the outfits are treated so casually (ripped apart, covered in blood), closes the distance that sometimes occurs with period drama - it quickly becomes almost timeless.
There were ten costumes displayed against the wood panelling and Grinling Gibbons carvings of the Queen’s Rooms – rooms that Queen Anne actually lived in, and where some of the filming took place. Yes, it would have been lovely if there had been more of them, but it was a wonderful treat to see these gorgeous pieces up close (ish - no touching allowed).
‘’I knew it was going to be period yet slightly off the wall and there was an element of stylization involved – all the things I love.’’ Sandy Powell*
I decided to make them black in the tradition of maid’s outfits and to fit in with the monochrome palette of all the costumes worn in the palace.
It’s made from embossed and printed black-on-black African fabric, bought in Brixton Market.’’ Sandy Powell*
‘’There’s something exhilarating about limiting the colour palette. As much as I love colour, this is the first time I’ve practically eliminated it from a film. In the palace scenes, we restricted the colours to black-and-white mostly, with some silvers and greys.’’ Sandy Powell*
Footman: You know the scene: ‘’Look at me! Look at me! How dare you look at me!! Close your eyes!’’
*Quotes from information panels in the exhibition at Kensington Palace.
Click on https://pridesource.com/article/nicholas-hoult-gets-in-formation-the-favourite-actor-talks-lipping-beyonce-wearing-wigs-hollywood-inclusion/
to see Nicholas Hoult lip-syncing to Beyonce while dressed as Lord Harley, and for the names he gave his wigs!
Plus a couple of pieces about the eclectic costume worn by Melissa McCarthy to co-present the Oscar for Best Costume Design ; it featured a ruff inspired by Mary Queen of Scots, and a toy bunny-covered version of Queen Anne’s robe: