×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Royal Friendship’s Evolution in ‘Victoria & Abdul’ Revealed in Costumes

When a director and a costume designer have collaborated on as many films as Stephen Frears and Consolata Boyle have, they develop a shorthand and trust that serves their projects well.

In their case, Boyle has created costumes for films including “Mary Reilly” (1996), “The Queen” (2006) and “Philomena” (2013). But despite the duo’s comfort level, complacency never sets in, says Boyle. “Every project is so completely different, each to be rediscovered and imagined anew,” she notes.

Their latest picture together, “Victoria & Abdul,” is a story of the endearing yet little-known friendship that grew over the last 15 years of Queen Victoria’s life between the monarch, played by Judi Dench (once again), and one of her Indian servants, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

“For me the challenge is not so much to create authenticity,” says Boyle, who built all the key characters’ costumes from scratch, “but to create a totally believable world where every element tells the story and where there are no false notes. Only then will it be truly authentic.”

From the earliest stages, the clash of cultures between Abdul’s India and Victoria’s England was the bedrock of Boyle’s research, in which the color, energy and vibrancy of the subcontinent stood in stark contrast with the dark and rigid formality of the royal household.

“I used fabrics, color, weight, texture and embellishment to reflect the difference between their worlds and to develop the stories of each character,” Boyle explains. “When we first meet Abdul, he wears simple, unbleached linen and cotton kurtas, chogas and churidars; later this evolves to rich, heavily embossed silks and then to his royal uniforms.”

There’s a general impression that Victoria dressed in black for 40 years following the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert, but Boyle, who handled many of the queen’s original garments when conducting her research, says that’s not entirely true. Victoria’s earliest appearances in the film show her in the deepest of blacks — “at the head of an English society and a royal household obsessed with death,” says Boyle. Then the costume designer slowly sneaks in turf blacks and black-grays and greens, also incorporating the classic Victorian half-mourning colors of soft purple, heliotrope and some white.

Boyle, Oscar nominated for “The Queen” and “Florence Foster Jenkins,” has clothed many powerful actresses, including Dench, Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren.

“In our industry they say when you’ve done it once, you’ll get hired to do it again,” Boyle says. “I love working with these actors. The more experienced they are, the more open they are. They know the power of costumes and of the camera and what all the people around them [making the movie] can contribute. The greater the actor, the less the vanity.”

More Artisans

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

  • What Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga Share:

    LeRoy Bennett Keeps Top Acts Like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande in the Spotlight

    You might say that LeRoy Bennett is a shining light among lighting and production designers for pop music. Doing double duty creating both touring sets and their illumination, he started out with a 14-year run as Prince’s collaborator, went on to work with Nine Inch Nails and Madonna and has counted Beyoncé’s and Bruno Mars’ [...]

  • Us Movie

    How 'Us' Pulled Off Subtle Differences in Costumes, Design, Music for Parallel Characters

    “Us,” Jordan Peele’s second outing as a director, following his 2017 critical and box office success “Get Out,” revisits similar psychological horror-thriller territory. But this time the stakes are, well, doubled.  In the new film, to be released by Universal on March 21, Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyong’o, returns to her childhood beachside home [...]

  • Ben Davis Cinematographer Captain Marvel Brie

    Cinematographer Ben Davis Helps Create the Look of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

    Since 2008’s “Iron Man,” the Marvel cinematic universe has continued expanding, now numbering more than 20 films. Along the way, the company has developed a reputation for solid technology choices with the large-format ARRI Alexa 65 camera and the Codex Vault 65 on-set media management system as cornerstones of its workflow. Earlier in the series, [...]

  • Costume Designer Betty Pecha Madden on

    Betty Pecha Madden Looks Back on Four Decades of Costume Design

    Dressing dolls as a child at her parents’ Wisconsin farm, future costume designer Betty Pecha Madden created stories using clothes. By age 17, her interest in costuming having grown serious via high school plays, she left home upon graduation and went to Chicago to find work in the industry. Madden clothed rock groups and college [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content