This year, Yorgos Lanthimos’s darkly comic, female-led The Favourite blew everyone away. Cleaning up during awards season with no less than 10 Academy Awards nominations and winning seven BAFTAs which included wins for Queen Anne herself, Olivia Colman. Everything from the screenplay, direction, acting, cinematography, music, costume design, and production values all earned well deserved high praise.
Set during the 18th Century the film is loosely based on the story of the real-life Queen Anne (Colman) and the relationships between herself and two warring cousins Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough played by Rachel Weis, and Abigail Masham played by Emma Stone, who embroil themselves in cutthroat and devious plans to win over the Queens favour.
The majority of the film was shot at the historic and. beautiful Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, a location that is no stranger to the big screen. Once the home of the Tudor Queen, Elizabeth 1st, the sprawling estate has seen films such as Elizabeth and its sequel The Golden Age, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare in Love, Lara Croft – Tomb Raider, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Avengers played out within its armour laden walls. Now with the home entertainment release of The Favourite pending, the house again hosts a number of costumes from the film in an exhibition open to the public until June 16th.
We had the privilege of spending some time at Hatfield House absorbing the sights that open the airways to a staggering amount of history laid bare for all to see, from richly textured tapestries to oil paintings of iconic royal, naval and political persons of interest. With Lord and Lady Salisbury still living on the grounds each passing member of the public will also witness some very personal photographs of the family and a few well know aristocratic faces. It’s also worth talking to those who work in the house especially the guides who can give you some juicy little nuggets of information from the time on set during filming, one in particular piece of information we obtained was Daniel Craig (aka Mr Bond aka Mr Rachel Weisz) turned up to watch his wife in action one day and fell in love with the house.
While we were at Hatfield House, we also had the pleasure of sitting down the award-winning costume designer from the film, Sandy Powell. With many years designing and creating costumes from scratch for the movies, especially period pieces there is no one better to bring the time to life with an unconventional touch. Even though The Favourite isn’t your run of the mill period drama, Powell’s approach to her design process was just the same as any film she has previously worked on.
“The process is the same whatever film you do, whatever period, you start with doing the research, researching the period as it would have been even if you’re going to break all the rules. You have to know what the rules offer. It’s good to know what it is first. So the research process is pretty much the same, you just look at as many images as you possibly can from the period and then you start looking at other images that are not from the period, particularly if it’s inspiring or something you like. I look at the fashion and the media and how things are put together, you know you get ideas from all sorts of things I look at fashion from other periods and then just sort of mix it all up.
“The actual cut of them was historically accurate as far as we know; we tried to be close to that as possible. And then I just I get on it and they would have been silks and binder and I didn’t have the money to spend on silks and all the rest of it. And I wanted the textures to be different.”
Lanthimos had an idea of what he wanted for the costumes but due to her experience, she pretty much had a free reign over her creations.
“He [Yorgos] didn’t have a specific idea of how he wanted costumes to look but he had a specific idea of the feeling of the whole thing which was we were doing this period film about real people in a real time in a real place.
“Yet, obviously from the nature of the script, it was unconventional. I mean the dialogue is unconventional it’s not in the same way as a period drama movie. Yeah. And so there was quite a modern element to it. I knew that I could sort of stretch the boundaries a little bit and sort of take artistic license so we agreed that the actual overall look was going to be historically accurate in that the silhouette and the style of the costumes were historically accurate. But then how I treated them, how I worked with the fabrics and the textures were going to be more contemporary.”
Period costume is always so grand and elaborate and can take a long period of time to get the look exactly how it’s supposed to look. For Sandy and her team, time was extremely tight to turn around the costume set, so tight in fact, that the costumes were still in production during the filming. That wasn’t her only obstacle, at the same time as working on The Favourite; Powell was also working on the costumes for Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns.
“I hadn’t didn’t have much time I had six weeks prep, I mean six weeks from the beginning of getting the job. From starting the research and stuff to the first day of the shoot and then we shot for about eight weeks six weeks. We were still producing costumes throughout all of that. We probably were producing things for about three months.
“We had to juggle, it was lucky I was working in the same place; I was under the same roof as where I had my Mary Poppins workroom. I could run between the two. We were already shooting Mary Poppins when I started working on the costumes which made it a lot easier because most of the costumes were designed and done for my props. I just had to be around for shooting and making sure everything was okay. Running between two things, something about being busier the more you can do.”
So what’s next for Powell? Is she happy to keep on creating exceptionally detailed period costumes, it would appear as long as she is working, challenging herself with new projects she’s happy to do what she does but when asked if she would ever consider working on the superhero genre she made it clear she was in no hurry to do one.
“[I wouldn’t mind working on] different kind of film I suppose or maybe working on a period I hadn’t done. I think each job is challenging there’s always new challenges and always new problems, new people to deal with. A lot of the time you’re dealing with different personalities…
“Superhero moves, I don’t know, they don’t appeal to me. So I’m not racing to do one. There are plenty of them with lots of money but is not my thing.”
Watch our exclusive interview with stars of the film, Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn.
COSTUME EXHIBITION AT HATFIELD HOUSE WILL BE IN PLACE UNTIL 16TH JUNE visit the website for more details (www.hatfield-house.co.uk)
The Favourite is available now on Digital Download and on Blu-ray™ & DVD on 13th May’