It’s snowing in Budapest, and production designer Fiona Crombie is on a recce — the British term for a reconnaissance mission. She’s looking for the perfect location to recreate the Battle of Agincourt for David Michod’s “The King,” starring Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V of England. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s plays, the film follows Hal as he ascends to the throne and faces political threats from neighboring France. For Crombie, it meant that she didn’t just have to find locations for the muddy battles we see on-screen, but she also had to look for the perfect interior scene locations.
For those, Crombie scouted the U.K. to find the ideal location for her royal court. “We shot in Haddon Hall and Berkeley Hall. I built some sets in Wales.”
Crombie is no stranger to recreating royal courts and working with medieval households; she created Queen Anne’s court in “The Favourite,” as well as the medieval settings of “Macbeth.” As Crombie says, even though she had worked on period and medieval, “It’s so vastly different.”
“When I got approached about the project, I thought, I’d already done medieval because I had worked on ‘Macbeth.’ However, that’s 11th century, and this is 15th century.” Crombie explains, “There’s a big leap and these films can get lumped in categories, but in reality, there are specific differences. It was nice to go out and find the differences and find the things about the period that spoke to David and me.”
Those patterns were in the small details.“When you actually look at the history of it, you look at the architecture. We’re seeing really old buildings, but we don’t realize they were predominantly lime-washed and the fabrics were bright. There were a lot of frescoes, painting and decorative work. We don’t see it. We can’t see it because it has all disappeared.” Crombie pored through illustrations from the time as part of her research. “There were little delicate watercolors and what you see is how delicate the colors, the patterns and the heraldry were. They were so graphic and colorful, but I remember thinking it was so interesting.”
She adds, “The graphic nature of the patterning was so beautiful. Together with Jane Petrie and her costuming, we started to use a lot of diamonds and graphic patterning throughout the film. That was good and we were fortunate the locations allowed us to do things.” Crombie was able to put in tiled floors and build in extra walls for scenes shot in Parliament and the Coronation Banquet.
For the Battle of Agincourt, Crombie says the geography was very specific. “We needed to find a place that was flanked on either side by forest. We needed it to have a hill and a dip. We went searching for that specifically.” The perfect location for the battle was in Szilvásvárad, Hungary. “It just had the right geography. It was this tiny, little town, but we felt it just had to be there because it gave us the story. It gave us the landscape that we needed.”
“That was a challenge because it’s very big,” she explained. “We took a backlot, and it’s one that dates back to the ’80s. It’s this monster of a backlot. Around one corner, there was 1930s New York, so we created our space. Again, what I tried to do there was pick up the same patterning to put that into the woodwork and the stonework. You see squares, diamonds and crosses which is the same motif you see in the Royal Court. That was months of building and painting. It was a huge set to build.”
Crombie’s biggest challenge was creating the battle camps. “How do you make battle camps cinematic and interesting? They set up camp, pull it down, travel and set up again. It was hard to know how to build those kinds of sets.” Fortunately for Crombie, they found great tentmakers, and by using robust linens and painting the linens in different tones she could build her camps.