A Room With a View, 1985
Ever since I discovered Merchant Ivory productions in the 1980s I have been a fan of Jennifer Beavan’s costuming work. Originally she worked with John Bright on films like The Bostonians, Maurice, and A Room With a View (for which she shared an Oscar and a Bafta award with Bright.)
Like many costumers who specialize in historical films, Beavan relies upon Cosprop – an English firm that rents ready-made and original historical costumes for film and theatre. This is often the only resource used for fitting out extras and sometimes, when there are tight schedules and small budgets, even the principal actors. Whether creating original garments or styling existing ones, Beavan has an innate ability to capture a specific feeling of an era that lends an air of authenticity to her work.
Gosford Park, 2001
My favourite work by Beavan is Gosford Park – a small production with minimal costume changes, but she managed to capture the personalities of the characters in the clothes they wore. Specifically, one dress was supposed to capture middle class taste (a green dress that had to look fashionable but inexpensive) and the end result was bang on. Remains of the Day, Sense and Sensibility, and The Gathering Storm round out what I think are her best work. Sherlock Holmes, Tea with Mussolini, and Alexander are my least favourite (Sherlock Holmes couldn’t decide if it was a steampunk version of history or not, Tea with Mussolini had all the old ladies dressed in fashions twenty years out of date rather than matronly clothes contemporary with the storyline, and Alexander… well, the costuming was the least problem for that debacle of a film.)
The King's Speech, 2010
The King’s Speech is a wonderful film and Beavan once again captures the right feeling of that period. In this interview with Jenny Beavan she explains how the film was a challenge because of the lack of time and money. My favourite adage is: You can get something fast, cheap or good – pick two. If a filmaker is forcing the costumer to work fast and cheap then they should be grateful they have a costumer like Jennifer Beavan who can do fantastic work.
Other than a quick scene near the beginning of The King’s Speech that is set in 1934 but where the Duchess is dressed in a 1920s dress (probably the result of an editing change) there are only a few minor costuming flaws that are typical of a film done too quickly and on the cheap. There was one hat in particular that did not sit well over Helena Bonham Carter’s wig, and a pale blue outfit the Duchess wears to Balmoral in 1936 looks inappropriate for the year and season – it resembles something made for the royal tour of Canada in 1939, however, in all fairness I would have to see the film again as I was so mesmerized by the story that I wasn’t always paying full attention to the clothing!
I suspect Jennifer Beavan will receive an Academy award nomination for this film, and she will be a leading contender for the award. I give The King’s Speech an 8.5 out of 10 for costuming authenticity and I look forward to seeing it again.