“A Very British Scandal” production designer Christina Moore spent time driving around the Scottish Highlands as she sought locations for the Amazon Prime limited series. Set in 1963, the historical drama charts the tumultuous marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, played by Claire Foy and Paul Bettany.
The Duke, who had inherited Scotland’s crumbling Inveraray Castle, married a series of women hoping to use their money to maintain the castle. His third marriage was to society figure and serial adulteress Margaret Whigham. As rumors of adultery, violence and alcoholism come into play, their divorce becomes a subject of hot gossip.
Moore found numerous locations around Scotland and London to help steep audiences in the history of the story.
As Moore traveled around Scotland, she thought it was unlikely that the filming crew would have access to the actual Duke’s Inveraray Castle, on the Western coast. But she started with that as her reference point.
“We looked at a lot of other castles in similar landscape settings and the same area of Scotland between the east and west coasts in the highlands.
“But the exterior of Inveraray was so specific and incredibly grand. It had this amazing setting on Loch Fyne that we couldn’t find anywhere else. Fortunately, the current Duke and Duchess were very amenable to our project, and they welcomed filming on the estate. While lockdown was challenging in some ways, in terms of finding locations, it became really good for us because it meant that a lot of places that would usually have a lot of tourism had been closed for a year. They were very welcoming to a film crew, and there were no visitors to disturb.
“Our conundrum was how to tell the story by finding other locations to add to it, and by doing some work to the real castle to give it that history. We did that in two ways. We used few visual effects, mostly with onset dressing and just to add greenery.”
For exteriors, Moore honed in on the scenery of the West coast again, close to the castle grounds because it had the fitting landscape.
“We went to Edinburgh for the exteriors of the courtrooms, which we felt was important. We wanted to get as much of Scotland in as we could for our two weeks of shooting there.
“Again, because of COVID, Edinburgh was in lockdown. So, we were able to get there for the exteriors and that helped add to the story.”
London and Interiors
The crew moved to London to film interiors such as Margaret’s London townhouse, the courtroom scenes and other interiors. Locations such as the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane Hotel stood in for London’s Dorchester Hotel and other bars to capture the “seedy, Bohemian aspect of the character.”
Moore’s biggest challenge came in finding a period-looking courtroom, one that had the right feel of the era, and one they could configure by adding their furniture.
“[With the castle interiors], we took a romanticized approach to it because the real castle was a very grand Georgian castle with beautiful interiors. We decided to go for something with a medieval-looking interior. The main interior that we used was actually an old boarding school (in Buckinghamshire), which had been empty for quite a long time. It had a hall, and we created the library and main staircase. We had to do a lot of decorating because it was completely empty, but it had that dilapidated feel.
“In contrast, the London house was well documented. The Duchess’ interiors were very well known because she was a society entertainer and hostess and there were a lot of photographs of her Mayfair townhouse. It was very elegant, and some of it had been decorated by her parents in the 1930s, including the famous mirrored bathroom. Some of it had been done by herself in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
“We used earthy colors in Scotland, and nature was important, so we added in warm brown colors. London had elegance, but this steely feel of being a cold place, so that was about blues and silvers.
“The courtroom was the very last location we found. We ended up in Ealing Town Hall. We had this very small room because the local elections were going on, and there was mass vaccination, but we were able to go in and decorate the set. It ended up working well for our story.”