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HomeAwardsContender-Alexandra Byrne-Costume Designer-Sleuth&Elizabeth

Contender-Alexandra Byrne-Costume Designer-Sleuth&Elizabeth


Alexandra Byrne’s costumes appear in two films this year—Elizabeth: the Golden Age and Sleuth. They couldn’t be more different.
In Elizabeth: The Golden Age Bryne lavishly re-imagines the attire of Britain and Hollywood’s favorite English ruler at middle age as the resplendent and iconic Virgin Queen who is victorious over King Phillip of Spain and his armada of ships. “I wanted the audience of today to salivate over the strength of her appearance in a way that is relevant to them,” says the English costume designer.
A decade earlier Byrne designed a more realistic wardrobe for Elizabeth, also starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Shakhar Kapur, when the young queen first ascended the throne. For the earlier film, Byrne was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA for best costume design. “The first film was more grounded in reality,” she notes. “In the second film she is a much more confident monarch and uses her appearance to achieve her ends.”
Sleuth, on the other hand, has only two characters—played by Michael Caine and Jude Law—who engage in a duel of wits and weapons in a starkly contemporary setting. The movie, with a new screenplay by Harold Pinter, is a radical remake of an earlier cinematic version which was in turn based on a theatrical hit. “In Sleuth you’re looking at two different characters and very few clothes, but it allowed me to emphasize very tiny details,” notes Byrne. “I trained as a theater designer doing sets and costumes; the majority of the film we shot in story order so it was almost like doing a piece for theater.”
The Golden Age was unquestionably the greater challenge, with costumes for the large Elizabethan and Spanish courts. Byrne starts every project doing extensive historical research, whether or not she winds up designing costumes that are historically accurate . “I feel I have to completely understand the period so that I’m in control of the choices of what to use and not use,” she says.
Major resources for her were “Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocked,” the archive bible of Elizabeth’s clothes, and “Gloriana: the Portraits of Elizabeth I.” Says Byrne: “The symbolism in the portraits, once you understand it, led me to believe that Elizabeth executed a public relations coup by replacing the Virgin Mary with herself as the icon of Protestant England, and that she was very much in control of the way she looked.”
Byrne doesn’t do costume drawings, but instead focuses on visual ideas and mood boards. Her main work is working with the body of the actor: “If I was to do a drawing that would be the costume I would get. It’s much more exciting when you have this possibility of a collaboration.” With Blanchett most of the work took place during the fittings.

Written by Jack Egan

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