Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Oscar Frontrunners- The King’s Speech

When it comes to period dramas the Brits know best and based on the awards show season sweep The King’s Speech has made it’s clearly true. The film even got the royal seal of approval from the Queen, who is featured in the film as a young girl.

Legendary costume designer Walter Plunkett once said that he enjoyed doing historical films because no one could critique him on his designs. The King’s Speech’s costume designer Jenny Beavan had the luxury of historical interpretation but also the challenge of portraying such public figures.  Beavan approached the film with the intention of creating a feel of the royal family and not a perfect re-creation of their wardrobe. “I wanted the actors to look naturally like the real people … Sometimes, (wearing) absolutely what they wore doesn’t do it. (The actors) look like they’re wearing costumes or fancy dress.”

The real life King George and Queen Elizabeth before their ascension to the throne

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham- Carter as the Duke and Duchess of York, they don’t look like their historical counterparts but have the same feel.

The official portrait of King George VI on his coronation day

The one exception to Beavan’s no re-creation rule was for the King’s Coronation uniform.

Like that other Oscar darling, The Black Swan, The King’s Speech was actually produced on a low budget. Beavan procured many of the film’s costumes from the famed British costume rental house Cosprop, which she used for her work on  her other Oscar nominated films like Sense and Sensibility and Gosford Park. Beavan attempted to use as many authentic 30s vintage clothing in the film as possible. “A lot of them were vintage, they were incredibly moth-eaten, but we mended them.”

Astute viewers of the film will notice that many of the characters wear the same outfits more than once in the film. This is because of the films budget but also because it was historically accurate. “This whole thing now of having masses of clothing is completely modern, from the ’70s – people started to get lots of clothes and stuffing their wardrobes. In those days, you had a pretty regimented amount. You looked after them, you brushed them or your servant or your wife brushed them, and they lasted for years.”

The fur lined coat is worn by Queen Elizabeth on several occasions in the film as is speech therapist’s Lionel Logue’s suit.

For Queen Elizabeth (who would later become known as The Queen Mother) Bevan chose different hats to mix up her wardrobe. “We couldn’t afford huge amounts of different outfits, but changing the hat changed the look.”  In the film the Queen serves as the support for the King and couldn’t be seen as outshining him as he came into his own, so The Queen’s outfits were also toned down from her favored bright colors in real life. “We found it much better to darken the colors on her clothes. You believed in her more.” Even the Queen’s preference for pearls is shown in the film, donning small necklaces to long strands.

Queen Elizabeth was known for her beautiful hats and pairing with bright spring colors

This hats’ the donned in the film were worn at a jaunt just the way Queen Elizabeth wore them in real life; the outfit is a nod to the Queen’s love of color.

For the King, Beavan had the difficult task of making actor Colin Firth look thin and lanky like his real-life counterpart.  Artfully revealed in the film is the fact that as a child King George VI wasn’t properly fed by and thus grew to be rail thin. Bevan solved the problem by dressing the fitter Firth in double breasted suits, wider lapels and ties, and by forgoing a suit jacket under a top coat.

A slightly larger jacket, in addition to how the actor holds himself, also helps created the illusion of thinness.

Beavan also played up King George’s underdog status by dressing him in dark conservative suits to contrast his elder brother, who was well a beloved glamorous playboy heir to the throne.  King Edward VII was dressed in entirely vintage clothing for the film that would have been the height of fashion in the 30s. For Edward’s scandalous American mistress, whom he eventually abdicated the throne to marry, Wallis Simpson Beavan created an eye-catching dress for a party scene that even featured a replica of a necklace that Simpson designed in real life. “I wanted something fairly simple and dramatic. I found this beautiful necklace, which she actually designed for Van Cleef & Arpels. They had a copy of it, and they lent it to me. And so I wanted something where I could put it down the back, because I just thought it would be such a wonderful image.”

The real life playboy King Edward VII and his glamorous American socialite wife Wallis Simpson

The stylish gray leather a fur trimmed jacket in addition to the white scarf and brown gloves creates the dashing pilot look for the literal high flying prince.

The black dress was an original design by Beavan that was supposed to stand out as over-the-top at the exclusive royal party.

Beavan was also careful to show the contrast between the King and his speech therapist Lionel Logue. Many of the King’s outfits were made by Beavan, while Logue’s were pulled from stock. The suits were a little short in the arm, and had a worn in look to show how frequently Logue used them as he could afford no others. “He had four suits, and [actor Geoffrey Rush] used to discuss which one he felt was the right one to wear on a particular occasion. I think pinstripe is more smart and businesslike.”

The difference social status between the two is evident in the coat fabrics, color, their hats and even in how they wear them, the King is hardly seen un-buttoned.

The difference social status between the two is evident in the coat fabrics, color, their hats and even in how they wear them, the King is hardly seen un-buttoned.

The real life Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist who coached the King through all of his wartime speeches.

Logue wore Bow-Ties in the film to make him standout, represent his unconventional methods and because he did in real life.

The film’s costumes reflect the understated nature of the film yet also rise to the occasion of greatness achieved in the film. Beavan managed to re-create a heralded family in their prime in a new light that makes the audience connect with them even more. Although Jenny Beavan has been nominated seven times in the past decade, she hasn’t won an Oscar for her detailed historical work since 1986. Here’s to hoping nomination eight is a lucky one!

The King is finally shown unbuttoned to show his comfort and trust with Logue, it was his most venerable moment that would become his triumph.

This entry was published on February 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment, Feb. 2011 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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