Costumes from 'The Favourite'

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This week I made a trip to London to see the exhibition of costumes from the move ‘The Favourite’. Have you seen it? It is an unusual film and even though I am not convinced I liked it as a story….it is enthralling for it’s brutal portrayal of Queen Anne’s life and times. I was fascinated by the costumes and sitting in the cinema, I was convinced that they were made of unconventional fabrics, so when I saw that they were on show, I was determined to go along to see them.

Queen Anne in 1702 painted by John Closterman

Queen Anne in 1702 painted by John Closterman

Kensington Palace is always a favourite place to visit. Set in the pretty grounds of Kensington Gardens which border on Hyde Park, it is a charming building to come across at the edge of the parks. It is not really palatial in style, more a gentile sort of country house in the centre of London and it did indeed start out as royal residence as just this. Bought by the reigning monarchs William and Mary in 1689 to escape the damp and fog of the riverside palace in the city, it became a relaxing home for them and indeed for Mary’s younger sister Anne. Known primarily for being Queen Victoria’s childhood home, it has a large exhibition space that is used extremely well - I have been on many occasions and there is always something different to see, often full of Victorian treasures. Last week though, it was a Georgian flavour that flooded the grand rooms and as Lucy Worsley says ‘it is great to see Queen Anne get her day in the sun’.

Although a dramatisation, the film ‘The Favourite’ has much truth in it’s story. Queen Anne was a rather tragic figure. Born in 1665 and Queen from 1702 until her death in 1714, she epitomises the fragility of life in these times. She became Queen after her elder sister Queen Mary failed to produce an heir and she herself had 17 pregnancies with no surviving issue. Plagued by ill health and obesity, in her later years when she was a widow, you can imagine life at court was as portrayed in the film. It is a harsh movie. We are often used to seeing very romanticised period dramas on TV in which beautiful english ‘rose’s’ float around in gorgeous costumes in spectacular settings telling love stories with happy endings. This is definitely not like that. Telling the story of the Queen’s final years and the rivalry at court between Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Lady in Waiting, Abigail Masham, it is a grim story of jealousy, illness, treachery and power play. Olivia Colman’s Oscar winning performance of the tormented Queen is compulsive viewing and the costumes add to this in subtle ways and sometimes not so subtle ways. They are the finishing touch to a splendid portrayal.

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Designed by Sandy Powell who was simultaneously working on ‘Mary Poppins’ at the time, the costumes were put together from scratch in six weeks. When you see them up close you understand this. Nothing about them is conventional and they are certainly not made of fabrics that would have been available at the time. This lack of authenticity though somehow adds to the drama of the film. Mostly fashioned in black, white, dark blue and grey they are striking for their abruptness. You can see denim , apparently reclaimed jeans from charity shops and you can see a lot of synthetic materials with all the harshness of manmade fibres.

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When I was watching the film, I was sure that some of the trimmings were made from plastic and so they were, being laser cut vinyl. This added a rigidity to the costumes that makes them somehow more powerful on screen. Modern techniques for fabric production mixed with 18th century style is a little bizarre. Sandy Powell says that the short time frame and tight budget forced her to be creative, using recycled fabrics such as an old candlewick bedspread and a roll of laser cut leather.

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In some scenes, Rachel Weisz wears a riding costume that oozes masculine vibes and suggests a feminist tendency that surprises the viewer in a historical film. Her character is extremely aggressive and determined but the styling of the outfit sends this message to the viewer instantly. Women are always so stereo typed in historical costume dramas…not here……

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The most magnificent costume is the regal court dress worn by Olivia Colman when she is addressing parliament and looks spectacular in the film and on closer inspection it is just as impressive for its creativity. I have to take my hat off to the Ms Powell as the fabrics and accessories used look inexpensive but somehow it works on the screen.

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Some of the details were definitely more theatrical than accurate period piece, but it is of no consequence, because the theatricality of film adds to the atmosphere of this tragic story.

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Next time…… a visit to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and some ‘darning’ discoveries.

See you soon,

Ruby x