×

Crew Creates Shabby-Chic World War II London for ‘Darkest Hour’

Production designer Sarah Greenwood and costume designer Jacqueline Durran have worked on seven films together spanning a diverse visual spectrum — most of them for director Joe Wright. These include “Atonement” (2007), “The Soloist” (2009), “Hanna” (2011) and “Anna Karenina” (2012). By all indications they’ve stayed very busy of late, having collaborated on two of this year’s awards contenders: the Bill Condon-directed “Beauty and the Beast” and Wright’s latest film, “Darkest Hour,” starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in the period surrounding the Battle of Dunkirk during World War II.

Greenwood — a born-and-bred Londoner — describes working as part of a creative team on a Wright’s movie as being a member of a big, dysfunctional family — albeit one whose members have an easy shorthand and a distilled knowledge of each other’s working habits. Dysfunctional or not, they’ve hit many high marks.

“Sarah, as a production designer, is always on board any project earlier than I am,” says Durran, who took home an Oscar for her costumes in “Anna Karenina.”

“One of the first things I do when starting a job is meet with her to go through the design world that she has already started creating. The framework that Sarah builds for each project is one of the foundations that I base my ideas upon.”

In the early going, Greenwood and Wright spend time honing in on his vision for the project at hand.

“Joe is great to work with,” says Greenwood, who has garnered three Oscar nominations on Wright’s films. “He might kill me for saying this, but it’s like panning for gold. There are always fantastic ideas in there somewhere and you’ve just got to rustle them out.”

The visual goal on “Darkest Hour” was to create a believable world of 1940s Britain. “It was very much a make-do-and-mend world,” Durran recalls.

As in “Beauty and the Beast,” which they worked on a year earlier, “Hour” juxtaposes worlds of light and darkness, which collide as the story progresses.

There were several images that helped guide the environment they aimed to recreate. They took inspiration from many period photographs, including an image of English heiress and socialite Lady Edwina Mountbatten in uniform and with heavy makeup, her hair in an aristocratic but shabby style.

It was this combination of shabby and chic that Greenwood and Durran keyed in on.

“There was something quite tawdry about it,” says Greenwood of the photograph. “Even though it was a very obviously in a grand house, it was dirty and sooty, a bit grim. [We wanted] to capture how grim it was.”

Greenwood re-created a set of Churchill’s underground war room, some of which still remains today as a museum. She and her team pinpointed references from it — including its low ceilings, paint textures and tonalities — then made the space work for camera moves.

“If you remember ‘Downfall,’” says Greenwood referring to the 2004 film about Hitler’s last days in his bunker, “this was polar opposite. Everything about that was hard and sharp, cool gray, very precise — the way the German’s did [things]. The British, well everything was completely cobbled together last-minute.

“That’s the feeling that we wanted to get across.”

More Artisans

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

  • Legion

    How Production Designer Marco Niro Created a Visual Climax for FX's ‘Legion’

    FX’s “Legion” has always drawn inspiration not only from the Marvel “X-Men” comics on which it is based, but also from the weirder corners of pop culture. When creator Noah Hawley cast “Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens as the lead — David Haller, a mutant whose telepathic powers have been misdiagnosed as mental illness — [...]

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His 'Pavarotti' Documentary Sing

    Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in [...]

  • Lesley Barber Film Composer

    How 'Late Night' Composer Lesley Barber Channeled Paul Shaffer for Talk-Show Theme

    When director Nisha Ganatra started planning “Late Night,” the new Emma Thompson-Mindy Kaling film about a failing late-night network talk show, she knew she’d need a house band and a theme for the program. Her first call was to composer Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), with whom she had worked a few years ago on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content