Morten Tyldum‘s The Imitation Game tells the real life story of English mathematician and logician Alan Turing and his team of code breakers who help crack the Enigma code during the bleakest days of World War II. On hand to help transform the actors (Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode) into the characters they were portraying was costume designer Sammy Sheldon, who is known for her work on V for Vendetta (2005), Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).
During the five-week period of prep before shooting, Sheldon worked with her small team of five during intense days to create the looks for each character. “I basically had two proper fittings with Benedict and Keira before we started shooting. I approached it by gathering together looks that I felt were right from the hire companies and stuff that we could find that were original buys,” Sheldon explained. It was during these fittings that the characters were fleshed out more thoroughly. “From those fittings, we had certain things that were made, certain things that were hired, and certain things that we had to buy.” When it came to renting clothing, the costume designer stuck to using items that were original 1940s pieces.
Sheldon was very particular in the looks she set out to create. “I avoided anything that was floral, anything that was flimsy, anything that was sort of too nondescript. I wanted to give quite a start,” she said. For example, all the men’s suits were very masculine. All their shirts were made because the stripes and checks she wanted just couldn’t be found elsewhere. All the shoes for the men were purchased from a special shoe company that made their shoes in a 1940s shape.
For the character of Turing, there was a late 1930s feel to everything he wore so he didn’t appear overly fashionable. There was also a special addition to all his outfits. “We always tried to have something in his outfits that had codes or ciphers or geometrical patterns in it so there was always a mathematical feel to the textures of his clothing.”
From the research Sheldon did, she discovered that people wore quite colorful clothing instead of the drab browns that is usually conjured up during this period in history. “I found some rare color photographs of people wearing brighter blues and reds,” the costume designer said. So bright colors were introduced into the color palette of the film. Reds were also used to help tell the story. A flash of red appeared in every single scene to help remind the viewer of the red flash of a bomb.
Sheldon’s favorite memory from working on the film was the challenge of finding the perfect outfit during a scene where Knightley’s character visits Turing. “I had this idea that I wanted Keira to look like a China tea cup, this beautiful, kind of perfect delicate thing within this world that was crazy and dark and blood red. I wanted her to have this feeling of purity. And everything came together. I think it really worked and that, to me, was a real joy.”