Arts & Culture

How the Costumes in The Favourite Help Tell the Story of Queen Anne

Sandy Powell on bringing a dangerous love triangle to life-and the challenge of working simultaneously on Mary Poppins Returns.
IMAGE YORGOS LANTHIMOS © 2018 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION
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Sandy Powell is no stranger to dressing royals. After all, the costume designer—a three-time Oscar winner and 11-time nominee—has worked on films including The Young Victoria, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Cinderella, not to mention monarch-free movies like Carol and The Wolf of Wall Street.

This winter, she’s responsible for two of the most eye-popping pictures to hit theaters: The Favourite, director Yorgos Lanthimos’s dark, comic depiction of a love triangle involving Queen Anne, and Mary Poppins Returns. Here, Powell explains just how to dress for court intrigue in 18th-century England, and why Queen Anne’s favorite outfit might not be what you’d think.


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Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite.

A movie like this—an opulent period piece that has a wicked sense of humor—must be a costume designer’s dream. How did you get involved?

I was already a fan of Yorgos Lantimos’s work, going back to [moves like] Dogtooth and The Lobster. After The Lobster came out, I was chatting with someone I knew who had worked on the film, and he told me that Yorgos was planning on making a film about Queen Anne. That sounded absolutely up my street, so my friend made introductions. This was a good couple of years ahead of when we shot the film, but I met Yorgos and expressed my interest, and he took me on board. I chased the job because I was intrigued to see what a director like Yorgos would do with this period.


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Weisz and Colman in The Favourite.

What about the period was exciting for you?

This particular time is interesting because it really hasn’t been done on film. It’s the very beginning of the 18th century and I couldn’t bring to mind anything similar. Usually, there’s a certain type of look to films about the British monarchy, a look that’s very historically accurate, but I knew he would have a new take on it, and so I would have been game to do the film whatever it was.


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Emma Stone and Weisz in The Favourite.

The film follows a power struggle between Rachel Weisz’s character, a longtime friend and confidant of Queen Anne, played by Olivia Colman, and Emma Stone’s character, a newcomer who quickly ingratiates herself with the monarch. How is this battle visible in their costumes?

For Emma’s character, it’s more straightforward. She starts as someone who was once a lady and who has fallen on hard times and becomes a servant. We first see her in something that would have been nice once, but is now well-worn. Then she’s in a servant’s look, in an outfit in denim—which I made from recycled jeans that I bought from thrift stores—and as she works her way into the Queen’s affections, she becomes something of a lady in waiting and starts wearing black, which is the color of the court. By the end of the film, when she’s gone above her station and really thinks she’s made it, I wanted to go over-the-top with that rather vulgar kind of nouveau riche look of much too much.

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For Rachel’s character, she was always the character who would display herself. She was the one who was in control for a long time, and so could be intimidating. I hesitate to use the word masculine, but I liked the idea of her being an emancipated woman, and like all emancipated women in history, she could wear men’s clothing and look great in a Katharine Hepburn kind of way. She needed to look strong and confident.


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Stone in The Favourite.

What about the queen herself?

When you read the script, she spends an awful lot of time in her bedchamber; she’s often either physically ill or suffering a terrible depression. And when people are in that state, they don’t bother to get dressed. So for me, her most significant costume is her robe, which is such a contrast to the robes of state that she has to wear in Parliament but are completely uncomfortable and restrictive. The three characters are all completely different and had to work separately—each had to individually be defined by her clothes—but also had to be recognizable as members of the same court.


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Colman in The Favourite.

Was one the most exciting for you to dress?

We had so little time to do this, it was like full-on designing and producing at such a fast rate that I didn’t have the luxury of spending enough time on any of them to truly enjoy it. The project as a whole was enjoyable, and I loved developing the look—we made costumes for every character, down to the extras, simply because we couldn’t find costumes to rent—and that was the fun bit.

The costumes also have to work in concert with the set design and hair and makeup to really hammer home the nature of these people.

I think that’s what makes it all work so well; everything pulls together correctly to find balance.


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Nicholas Hoult in The Favourite.

I don’t imagine there were any pieces that could do double duty on both The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns.

Not one! They couldn’t be more different. What I had with Mary Poppins was a combination of doing the “real world” in 1934 London against the fantasy sequences which were entirely make-believe. There’s an awful lot of color, especially in contrast to The Favourite. I worked on both at the same time, though, and I think that’s how it was possible. If they were similar, it would have been confusing.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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