Saturday, January 10, 2015

'The Imitation Game' Costume Design: Fashioning Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke out of the past


Yesterday in Do clothes make man? we had a look at Sammy Sheldon Differ's costume designs for Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Today, as promised, a little more detail on fashioning Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke character. Clarke was the solitary female mathematician working with the group, and was, for a time, engaged to be married to Turing, a closeted homosexual.

The designer notes that images of Clarke were hard to come by but those that she saw presented a woman —the only female mathematician working within the Bletchley Park group — "looking severe and definitely unsexy. "

Joan Clarke with the men of Bletchley Park. Severe? I don't think so! 
But I guess we can't all be Keira Knightley.

In a New York Times article, Sheldon Differ goes on to say ...
"counteracting Ms. Knightley’s natural beauty was a challenge, she said. “We layered her up and didn’t go with anything too figure-hugging. And besides, it was cold at Bletchley. You have to think about all those environmental issues."

About the stockings!
“though apparently a lot of women were supposed to have painted stockings on their legs, we decided to give Joan thick woolen tights. Her clothes were all very practical, no hint of trying to compete on a sexual level. It was all about brains.”
My mother was eight years younger than Joan Clarke — and quite as attractive as Keira Knightley, thank you very much — and indeed she did paint stockings on her legs. I remember her telling me she would use an eyebrow pencil to draw the seam up the back of the leg.

The costume designer tried to use as much vintage period clothing as possible. I hadn't realized how long the impact of rationing lasted; apparently until my birth in 1953!
We tried to find as much CC-41 clothing as possible,” the government’s label for rationed goods, Ms. Sheldon Differ said. “Mopping up” as many pieces as she could from costume houses and rental outfits, she built a core wardrobe. “Distinguishing between the 1940s and ’50s was difficult,” she said. “We still had rationing in England until 1953. We were still in that postwar depression, so my practical process had to come into play to show the passage of time at Bletchley Park between 1938 and 1945.”
To do so, she created three distinct looks for each character but kept heir wardrobes limited. “It’s a lot of changes. But you have to bear in mind that people didn’t have a lot of clothing. If you had one good suit, you were well off. Most would make-do mend.”
The wonderful world of color
“I don’t know if this is an unconscious thing that everyone does, but when we look at the past, we just expect to see black and white,” Ms. Sheldon Differ said. But she found some rare color photographs in her research showing that “those deep ruby and rosy reds, oak yellows and blues in the film were quite common,” she said. Colors were also less manufactured than they are now, she added, with natural dyes on natural fabrics making for bolder, more honest colors, in her view. “One of my main inspirations was a photo of some children who had been evacuated to the English countryside sitting on a wall. Each has a block red, oak yellow, green or blue jumper on. So we tried to use those colors as a way of telling the emotion of the story.”
Here's a video of the Gold Derby interview with Sammy Sheldon Differ; frankly it's got some spotty parts that are a bit tough to make out, scratchy and a bit garbled. The image breaks up about a minute in but comes back around 3:25 minutes. If you have the time — and the patience — it's great to hear Sheldon Differ explain the process in her own words.


The Imitation Game has been nominated for 9 BAFTA's including one for Sammy Sheldon Differ's Costume Design; odds are she'll get an Oscar nom as well. The Golden Globes (which doesn't give awards for costume design) has given The Imitation Game 5 nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Screenplay (Graham Moore) and Best Score —which you can listen to a bit of here — by Alexandre Desplat.


Here's the UK trailer, enjoy!


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