IF the Globes handed out awards for costume design — they don't — I can't imagine Sammy Sheldon Differ, the costume designer for The Imitation Game wouldn't be flying in to L.A. As it is, Sammy Sheldon Differ can enjoy the BAFTA nomination she received today— Costume Design was one of 9 nominations BAFTA gave the film: Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Production Design, and Sound. And the knowledge that when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 15th*, her name will most likely be in that number.
The costume designer whose work can also be seen in the upcoming Ex Machina has been nominated for the BAFTA twice before (Merchant of Venice, Canterbury Tales(TV)) talked to Rachel Lee Harris at the New York Times about finding the right look for the World War II period film The Imitation Game, a period that has been done and done, on film before.
Ms. Sheldon Differ threw out old notions of what the period should look like. “One of the loves of my job is forgetting what my preconceived ideas are, reading the script and then actually researching honestly, without any outside influence, seeing if I can find the truth,” she said. “Later, I can widen that concept to include emotional responses to the script, elements dictated by the scene or what the actor or director feels.”
A Disheveled Look: She and Mr. Cumberbatch first shared photographs and research on the real Turing, then she gathered as many vintage pieces as she could to see what might work on the actor. “Alan, the person, wore ill-fitting clothing,” she said. “Everything was wrinkly or a bit tight at the top and saggy at the bottom. Benedict took that and ran with it. It’s such a heavy, emotional role, we just tried stuff on and went, ‘Is this right? Are we going to get into textures? What shades of gray and blue and brown?”
They ended up focusing quite a bit on blue, in part because of Mr. Cumberbatch’s “amazing blue eyes,” she said, and they used sweaters, shirts and suits with linear graphic prints and geometrical patterns to hint at the computer code in Turing’s work. “There’s texture everywhere with Alan.”
Speaking with Gold Derby, the designer also understood that the real Turing wasn't interested in clothing:
"He – as a character in the film, and I think in reality – didn't really care much about clothing. Anything that he put on ... is kind of calculated as much as you can given that he's not that much interested in clothing."
"We tried to be faithful to certain photographs that we found, but then also cinematically try and give that air of stuffiness in a way, as well as a slightly unkempt look. As we go through the story, we see him getting more unkempt, and we used different types of fabric within the suits to give that disheveled journey."Have you seen the film yet? Controversy aside, it's quite good, and the costume design is clearly spot on, but I did get the sense there was something missing, an element that prevented the film from really soaring. I've been thinking it was the lack of attention the film paid to Turing's homosexuality — oh, they talk about it, but they don't really show it. But maybe that's not it at all. Toby Young in an article "The Misguided Bid to Turn Alan Turing into an Asperger's Martyr" in The Spectator makes the case that the film has Turing all wrong; that while they paint Turing as an autistic, friendless, humorless homosexual, this couldn't be farther from the truth. He certainly looks livelier, happier, in the photo above than we ever see him in the movie.
In the featurette I shared a few days ago, director Morten Tyldum noted he wanted to make a movie that 'celebrates being different.' Do you think he got those differences right in The Imitation Game?
I'll focus on costume design again tomorrow with a look at Keira Knightley's wardrobe. While women like my mother were drawing stocking seams on their legs with black eyebrow pencils, Sammy Sheldon Differ opted to give Knightley's Joan Clarke thick woolen stockings instead. Lucky Keira!
* Times they are a-changing. When my brother first started working at the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Science) he'd go in to work early to watch the announcement which happens at some atrocious hour like 5 in the morning. Now he sleeps in and reads it on Twitter like the rest of us!