Consolata Boyle is no stranger to dressing actors as famous women. The Emmy-winning and three-time Oscar-nominated costume designer has helped Judi Dench become Queen Victoria (“Victoria and Abdul”), unlocked Margaret Thatcher for Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) and opened the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth II for Helen Mirren (“The Queen”). Now she takes on scientific royalty by channeling the world of Marie Curie for Rosamund Pike in “Radioactive,” which Amazon Studios begins streaming July 24.
The film follows Marie from her days as pioneering young scientist and Polish immigrant Marie Sklodowska in Paris, circa 1890s, and traces her steps as she meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley of “Maleficent”), charting their discovery of the chemical elements polonium and radium and, later, the process of radioactivity.
Working with “Persepolis” director Marjane Satrapi, Boyle was pleased to discover that there were many existing visual references concerning Curie that she could call on, including her family. Moreover, with the character being at the forefront of science, there was no shortage of information in that area. “Everything was so well recorded,” Boyle says.
When we first meet a young Marie, she’s walking through a park in Paris and encounters Pierre for the first time. She’s wearing an off-white linen blouse with a long skirt and a hat. The inspiration for the look came from a photograph that was said to be Pierre’s favorite — one of Marie as a girl.
Boyle didn’t want to use too many colors. “I wanted to keep it as simple as possible,” she says. “The strongest colors were the grays and dark overalls she wore for her lab work.” Curie was a practical person, and Boyle wanted to reflect that in her wardrobe. “She was very no-nonsense.”
Boyle also included blue in her palette. “That was the key color because I wanted to associate it with the lapis stone and the scientific elements of blue,” she explains. “That was her symbolic color.”
Much of the movie is spent in Curie’s lab as she works on the discovery of polonium, so Boyle created a lab uniform. She used heavy cottons that she dyed for color and then cut and made into overalls and lab coats.
Throughout the film, Marie faces opposition from her male counterparts, the scientists who doubt her experiments and refuse to believe she has found a new element. For those scenes, Marie’s attire is formal but simple — a blouse, skirt and belt — to show that work supersedes fashion.
For private moments between Curie and Pierre, Boyle wanted to show the intimacy and sensuality of the relationship. Dressing Marie in whites and soft pinks, the designer used viyella — a blend of cotton and wool — to soften the look and represent the tenderness between the couple.
In contrast, the men’s dress is more severe: waistcoats, black frock coats, white linen shirts. “It was very Edwardian,” Boyle says.
Ultimately, Boyle’s desire was for the costumes to help “tell the story of this extraordinary woman and how she lived her life, her struggles and her triumphs.” She adds, “I didn’t want them to get in the way of that story.”