Alexandra Byrne Elizabeth The Golden Age

Alexandra Byrne Elizabeth The Golden Age
So Alex tell us what exactly what your role is on the project?

Alexandra Byrne: I am the costume designer, I am responsible for everybody's clothes that you ever see

And now tell us when you went to that very first production meeting you know with the producers, with Shakhar (I don't know quite who was there, probably Renny, what was the sort of overall look or the kind of palette what were) what were the first ideas about where they wanted to go visually with?

Alexandra Byrne: Shaker was very clear one of the first things he said was he wanted it to look completely different from the first film, to have a completely different feel, a different quality of light. And, and then the most important he started talking about the colour blue, which um.. I, well it certainly scared me because blue is un-Elizabethan, it's un-English and it's not royal colours for England, so I kept thinking well maybe the blue with just go away but the blue stayed and stayed, so that was a huge input for me to actually to make this world where blue was a relevant colour for, for an Elizabethan queen.

And then how did you sort of tie that in with the, the iconography that, that we know of Elizabeth in, in this kind of in the pomp of her reign as she er.. you know as we see her in this film?

Alexandra Byrne: I think that, that had to come from Guy and I working together because you have to create a world that is, is credible um.. and so we worked very closely with a lot of reference, a lot of images, and then er.. we just kept working our way through it and for a while we avoided the blue and everything went very red, and then the blue came back in so obviously we went through a process of kind of finding our way into it and I think for me it meant that the one of the main storytelling pieces of Elizabeth's clothes were the colours and actually how to, how to tell the story through the colour.

Right, I mean you obviously you, you were aware that the, you know there's er.. a great deal of portraiture of, of, of Elizabeth during this period, but, were, were you, your only source materials really when you were looking at costume?

Alexandra Byrne: Um.. well I think the benefit of doing the first film meant that I actually know, I knew the period really well, so there is this kind of inherent backbone of, of research that I knew. Um.. and that in a way made me freer to look tangently and to read more maybe than just looking at reference. And it was really through reading more about her that I realised the whole all the ambassadors writing home would write about her amazing appearance, her astounding dress, her beauty, maybe that was for their longevity, whatever, but I felt it was important to actually, to give some sense of that to an audience today and to be much freer. And the, the tone for, for me was actually looking at some couture work by Blens Lowger who did um.. he interpreted a lot of historical paintings in 50s couture and he had done some Elizabethan pieces, so that was the big (background noise) that was the big leap for me because I thought she was a fashion icon in her time and so we could make it more relevant to an audience today in that way.

Now you said that Shaker wanted to make it different to the first film, and would you describe for us the difference in Elizabeth's appearance then from the first film, what kind of Elizabeth are we seeing in this film?

Alexandra Byrne: Er.. in this film Elizabeth is a, is an established, confident queen, she's been on the throne, she's established her reign, her palace how she wants it, (background noise) so she's a queen in her own right. Um.. whereas in the last film she started as a princess (coughing) on excuse me....

Alexandra Byrne: She started as a princess and became a queen so it was about her journey to becoming queen. In this film she is on the throne, she's confident, she's a queen and it's about her journey towards immortality.

And how does that translate in her dress, how, what, how, what, what's...

Alexandra Byrne: Oh I can't answer ha, ha, ha!

Ok we'll er..


Think, let, let's think of maybe you know her at her most iconic in this film, you know if you can think of that of a costume you know her, her most regal [INAUDIBLE] in court perhaps you know....Interviewer Interviewer Alexandra Byrne: I think oh what, I think one of the difficulties in this film is that we don't see her sitting on a throne with the crown so we don't (background noise) we don't have that scene that is, is telling us about her being queen. So maybe the red dress at the beginning of the film for me is the statement of her as queen in formal robes, doing the job of being queen and then from that we establish that she has formal and informal clothes in terms of when she is performing to her public as queen and when she's at court with her, her nobles and her ambassadors. But also the er.. the whole key to her clothes really, Shaker talked so much about Bess and Elizabeth being the same person, so that Bess is the mortal side of Elizabeth the divine, so it means that the two characters are dressed really in the context of each other. Um.. which is interesting and difficult (background noise) and you have got two very different actresses and, and yet in the, even then it's a three way combination with Raleigh as well, so, er.. you're always dressing your character in the context or in er.. or in response to another character.

Right well then we'll come onto Raleigh in a minute but just, to pick up on that you know we do see a kind of a mortal Elizabeth in this I think, there's a kind of peeling away-ing of those, of those layers er.. the sort of courtly appearance. Um.. you know to the point where we see her you know looking at herself in front of the mirror and really sort of looking at herself as a person, as a mortal and as a frustrated mortal. In those scenes in her chambers, in her private chambers, what, who do you, how are you dressing Kate in those scenes to make her seem maybe slightly more vulnerable than in the, than the Elizabeth that we saw in the first film?

Alexandra Byrne: Um.. to make her more vulnerable obviously she is still corseted so that's giving you a hard shape but it's to do with the scale, the scale of the skirt, how close people can get to her, how close the fabric is to her skin and giving a hint of intimate layers (background noise) next to her skin. Um.. all, I found it interesting so that it is more intimate I think er.. I think there are very, maybe the corset and the underwear through the very nature of it, that there is always an air to her that she is dressed for the role in this film and it is about her appearance, using the appearance to work into or out of um.. and she uses it very much as a, as a tool as the queen did, she was really the first person to have a PR exercise through her, her portraiture.

Um.. for instance in the red dress that we see Kate in, um.. you know the dressing how, how long does all that, does that take you know it was, there seemed to be so many layers and so much detail there is the dressing of er.. [INAUDIBLE]?

Alexandra Byrne: The dress, the dress, Kate is the actress in that red dress takes us, after the first time maybe 30 minutes. But there is a, a contemporary account of a noble lady dressing and it took them five and a half or six hours to dress, because in fact even the, even the, the sleeves they are not sewn in, everything is pinned in, so a lot of the folds and the tucks and the pieces that are put on, they are all pinned in, so in fact your whole day was spent dressing and then you wouldn't have been very mobile because you were pinned everywhere so nobody could get near you and you ha, ha, ha! It wasn't safe for anybody to touch you, and so I don't know because it begs the whole question of what their informal clothes were, because obviously [INAUDIBLE] the queen portraiture was used for, for imagery, um.. so what was their day to day dressing, how did they wear their jeans and tee shirt equivalent, you know, it's, it's interesting.

Now [INAUDIBLE] before we move onto, to [INAUDIBLE] but about Kate um.. battle, armour, was er.. was incredible I remember we were up at [INAUDIBLE] and we were all waiting for Kate to arrive and we shot loads of the, the, the scene in the morning and um.. and when she arrived in her you know long red hair and, and this amazing armour um.. I think everyone sort of got a sense for the first time of the kind of Elizabeth that we may see in this film. Um.. tell us about, about the armour and why, why you, you landed on, on, on that look that for you know her er.. you know in battle dress you know at her most....

Alexandra Byrne: A, a lot of that would, Kate felt very strongly that the in the relevance of the scene was that it was a queen who was prepared to die with her people as a soldier. So it's this, it's a mixture between a leader, which the people needed but equally being a soldier, a fighter who was prepared to get out there and fight with them. So in a way it's, it's both a PR exercise and a, and a reality. I mean obviously it touches all the images for the audience of Joan of Arc and, and all those images that are useful. But, whether the queen wore armour like that and rode astride we don't know, but in terms of telling our story it's a very, it's a very key moment.

Well it certainly worked sort of visually you know for everyone there on the set. Um.. now, now [INAUDIBLE] he is, he is exotic, rugged, he's everything that the other courtiers aren't um.. again where, where did you come up with this, with this sort of image of Raleigh and, and the Clive that we, that we see on the set?

Alexandra Byrne: Well for Raleigh there are, there are lots of contemporary engravings of Raleigh but, but bizarrely he's in court dress in the middle of you know the West Indies or wherever which is obviously how they wanted to perceive him at court. The reality is that a, a gentleman of that time maybe had one suit of clothing, they would have gone to sea in those clothes, they would have got wet, they would have got dry, they would have got torn, they would have got repaired, they would have had to have put on more practical layers, so you, so the idea was that his clothes he had gone to sea in them and they had evolved over the journey, so, say it's four months getting to America, his time over there, another four months back, you know they would have, it's really the story of what happened to his clothes on the journey, how he added pieces, how they were repaired, what happened to the fabric. Um..

Interviewer And was Clive the sort of er.. in, involved in that obviously you know it, it, it, it...

Alexandra Byrne: It, well I spoke a lot to Clive he was away because he was filming in Canada so we had a lot of a lot of conversations and sent reference over and then I went over to Canada and we did prototypes and we did fittings. I think he was alarmed by the britches, I kept reassuring him, I said they do work ha, ha, ha! They really do work and er.. certainly now I think, I think he's quite keen on his britches he's you know they have become, they have become part of you, but they give you a certain way of walking and they give you a scale. Yeah.

And seeing him up there I mean I, I think that the sort of most iconic image for Clive is, is at the, at the helm of the Tiger, and we saw him you know last week, up there, I mean how, how did er.. when, when you saw him up there you know, you know dressed in his homecoming gear er.. as it were, I mean er.. how, how did you feel about that the sort of Clive that er.. we had seen?

Alexandra Byrne: I thought he looked great, I thought he, you know I liked the fact that he, he was in his waistcoat which actually is made of fish skin, so it's all kind of you know it's, I thought it all added up, I thought it looked great.

Ah huh. Obviously there's all, all the other er.. dressing that has to happen, I mean there are days when there are you know 100 and, 150 extras, er.. how do you go about dressing that number of people I mean and, and how much detail do you have to go into really?

Alexandra Byrne: Um.. dressing the crowd we go into a lot of detail because you never, you never know where the camera is going to be and where you don't want it to be sure as anything it's going to be there. So all, all extras are pre (background noise) fitted, we pull stock, we work with the....

You know one assumes that you would, you know that if there are 100 extras there's 100 times the work is, is that the case?

Alexandra Byrne: Yeah it was about 100 times the work, we obviously we, we don't make all the crowd we go to all the costume houses and pull all the stock that we think is relevant, you then end up with a working wardrobe that inevitably has gaps in it, for example there are never going to be enough shirts so right at the beginning of the film you set up having a factory make of you know 200 shirts made. Um.. in sizes you think will work or the shapes you think will work, you never quite know, the truth comes out when you're fitting and you have you know big shirts on a small shirt sort of, um.. and then you just start doing the fittings and you, you work to make the gaps. Um.. the most difficult crowd for us are the courtiers because, obviously you are using stock from other films, everybody's interpretation is different, so you, it's difficult finding things that fit in with your colour or your palette or your style. Um.. but you have to, you just have to cast liberal line and find a......

Alexandra Byrne: Um.. but you have to, you just have to cast a liberal line and find a through line and, and give it an, an overall look, again ruff's is obviously very difficult, ruffs you know they are enormously difficult, very high maintenance, only fit one neck size, you know, it's, it's not an easy period and then you end up with somebody with sort of pipe cleaner legs, in a costume which should have robust calves and you think ooh ha, ha, ha!

[INAUDIBLE] Good um.. er.. tell, tell us a bit about er.. about Kennington you know where, where the, where the, the whole department is set up and it is, I, I was amazed I have only actually seen footage of it, I have not actually seen it myself but...

Alexandra Byrne: Right.

But it's an enormous department...

Alexandra Byrne: Yeah.

Um.. tell us a bit about the setup there and, and what complications there are in being dislocated maybe from the rest of the production who were at Shepperton?

Alexandra Byrne: Ok well, Kennington is fantastic again it's a space that was our home and it meant that we could have the dye department, the making department, the design department, (background noise) the er.. supervisors, everybody was under one.....

Um.. so sorry tell, tell us about Kennington, it's a, it's a huge department, a huge setup, and as you were saying you know there, there are perhaps possibilities but also drawbacks in being slightly dislocated from, from Shepperton?

Alexandra Byrne: Well the main reason for Kennington was that I thought it was very important to have a workroom in town, because we, obviously we are buying all the time, people are travelling from all over the place and so much of your day in the early stages is wasted sitting on traffic which makes people fed up, tired, angry and it's nothing to do with the film. So we had this fantastic space so we could have all the departments together, we had the dye room, the cutters, the sewers, printers, design departments, supervisors, and actually what that meant was that the processes, everybody could see each others processes, so it was great for people working on the film, it was great for me because I wasn't travelling between people communicating. And, and people really enjoyed it actually because they felt part of the whole process, and, (background noise) and it was great actually, the best part of Kennington you know was the kitchen, we had this kitchen so we could eat which is a luxury ha, ha, ha! But we had a huge table, it sounds incredibly basic, we had a huge table so everybody would have lunch together and that had a, just an incredible unifying effect so you, there was no problem with people working late or not understanding what they were doing, it, it really bonded the department in a way that such a small thing was extraordinary.

Mm and obviously you er.. I guess with all those fittings, especially the kind of costumes that we are dealing with in this film, how much access do you have to the actors, say Kate and Clive, before you actually got to see them on set you know to get that fitting right, to get that look right?

Alexandra Byrne: Um.. actors, actors it depends obviously Kate was working abroad, Clive was working abroad um.. I clocked up a lot of air miles, you know it's, it's, but that takes time so it would be easy you know to do a fitting that could take two hours in the workroom, takes you two days, three days travelling. So you, but you can, you just have to schedule everything and, and prioritise but the fittings, for me the fittings are the most important time, that's when the costume happens. And also the joy of Kennington means that not only are you doing a fitting with the maker (background noise)....

And you were saying also you know.....

Alexandra Byrne: The great thing about er.. the fittings where the, you were doing a fitting with the maker and the dye department could come in, the shoemaker could come in, everybody can come in and see it without again having to travel, so again it's all part of the process, so it's all towards one costume. And actually I think the actors enjoyed it too, you know they, there would be a terrible smell on days when you're dyeing wool and they would say oh well it's so smelly, and you would say we are dyeing wool for whatever and it, it just means that the whole industry of the department is understood and it, and it's great.


Alexandra Byrne: But, but the downside, you asked about it not being at Shepperton, um.. it depends, I don't think there is a downside, you know it means er.. you travel down one day a week or you pick up information, but we also we, you know you build that into it, we have a fantastic truck driver who just goes backwards and forwards with all the paperwork and whatever and it's, I don't think there are any downsides, you know certainly for the buyer, you know if you need a piece of fabric that he's not sure about, you can see samples that day as opposed to him coming out at the end of the day, it takes three and a half hours in traffic, then you don't see it till the next day, then it's all that the trail has gone a bit cold, so, just the kind of the speed with which everything could happen was great.

I am sure the way, er.. the way Shaker's shoes, to be able to respond quickly to, to make changes er.. is, is....

Alexandra Byrne: Yeah you have to be very quick to changes but it, but the great thing is it's all there, and also, er.. you know you can have problems because people resent the changes and think oh why have I got to do this, but again because it affects everybody, and there's a process that it works through then it, it's all, it's all about being a department.

Now just finally um.. maybe now you know it's, it's the last week er.. on, on the film and hopefully you can have some sort of a perspective, some sort of er.. objectivity about it um.. you know looking back are you, are you happy with the work that you have done, and, and from what you have seen of, of rushes and what Renny and Shaker have put down on the film, are you happy with the look that's coming through with the costumes?

Alexandra Byrne: I am amazed, yeah no I am really, I am really excited to see the whole film together, I think it'll be intriguing and I, you know the story that Shaker has talked about of the balance of a three way relationship, the triangle, it'll be fascinating to see the balance of that.