Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was an 18th century society hostess, trendsetter and political activist who is the subject of a recent film, The Duchess. It stars Keira Knightley in the title role and Ralph Fiennes as the unfaithful Duke, and “was one of the most enjoyable productions I’ve ever worked on,” says Daniel Phillips, the film’s makeup artist. “I love the period, and you can really push the boundaries.”
There is a famous portrait of the duchess by Thomas Gainsborough, which was one influence for Phillips. But he relied even more on work by a contemporaneous artist Maria Causeway, who painted women in a more Romantic style. Women of society of that era wore quite a bit of lead-based makeup which gave an alabaster gray caste to faces, and was thickly applied, often to cover skin blemishes.
“We tried to create a softer look for Keira,” notes Phillips, who had worked with Knightley before. “I kind of know how she photographs and what to look out for.”
He worked closely with the film’s director of photography, Gyulas Pados, to capture the most flattering angles. There was also a progression of looks. “Because we start with her quite young, we created a feeling of the passage of time,” notes Phillips “She started with a very fresh face, and I gradually applied more makeup and more contouring and shading to add a few more years. When Keira has a lot of makeup you have to be very careful, but we had great very soft lighting.”
Ralph Fiennes as the duplicitous Duke had minimal makeup, though sometimes he was given a more elaborate look as a dandy, or in 18th-century parlance, a Macaroon.
Other key collaborators for Phillips on The Duchess included Jan Archibald, who did the elaborately piled-high wigs, and hair stylist Loulia Shepherd. For Knightley, getting made up and into costume was a lengthy process each day, requiring about 45 minutes for makeup, one to two hours for hair, and nearly an hour for costumes.
“We were always pushed for time, which is always the problem with a period production, so we had to be really careful about our shooting schedule,” he observes, “so there wouldn’t be too many changes during the day.”
A wig or makeup change could eat up a couple of hours. Phillips, who won kudos for his work on The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, and an Emmy for BBC production Bleak House, based on the Charles Dickens novel, has just finished doing hair and makeup on Cheri, set in 1920s Paris and directed by Stephen Frears. He is signed up for The Debt, an encore with Mirren who stars.
Previous Noms and Wins
2007: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, best hair and makeup, The Queen