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Craft Spotlight: The Sumptuous Medieval — and Vegan — Costumes of The Green Knight


Green Knight
Dev Patel in The Green Knight

In David Lowery’s The Green Knight,  Dev Patel plays Arthurian knight Sir Gawain, who embarks on a foolhardy quest to prove his valor by facing off against the mysterious but dangerous titular character  after it lays down a Christmas Day challenge.  

Obviously, his quest takes place during Medieval times, and it involves a large assortment of fantastical characters (most saliently the Green Knight himself), as well as real life ones.  The latter include King Arthur and his Queen, Gawain’s love interest played by Alicia Vikander, an alluring but untrustworthy noble couple, played by Joel Edgerton as well as Vikander.  As this summary suggests, the setting is ripe for some wizardry from the craftspeople behind the film, and Lowery’s team delivered. As we wrote in our review of the film, the luscious, intricate, and lavish costumes by Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska are one of the highlights of this entrancing film.

Last week, Below the Line spoke to Turzanska about how she designed the impressive pieces, and what the process of putting together such a tech-heavy movie was like. Read what she had to say, below.

GreenKnight_Costumes20Below the Line: You worked with David before on All Them Body Saints, but how did you get involved with this project, and how did you come to design these beautiful costumes?

Malgosia Turzanska: I had been meaning to work with David before, but it had not worked out because of dates, but when he sent me this script I said “I have to stop everything, because this is just my favorite project.” I waited many months because the movie kept pushing back in its production schedule, but I was not going to let it go. But that also meant I was able to live with it for more time, do more research and think about the characters more before I started, which was good.

In terms of the process, first of all, David is an amazing creator and his scripts always bring me to tears, because he has this honesty and freshness in the way he approaches any subject, and this was not different, in fact I’d say this is some of his best work ever.

The interesting thing for me was that I was not immediately responding to this period, but I was responding to the questions of free will and fatalism and self, the idea of religion and individual, so it was like a philosophical treaty that I started from, and somehow gradually it grew into costumes through research, but it was a more interesting journey than just “Ok here are 10th century costumes.”

GreenKnight_Costumes17BTL: Tell us more about the basic 10th Century type research, and we can take it from there.

Turzanska: My first image was a photograph by Eadweard Muybridge, so definitely not medieval. The idea was suspended movement that you watch from every phase. In the costumes of Gawain’s mother and sister, you see a bit of that—the same motion from a different perspective. The movie is actually set in the 14th century, but I actually went really back to early medieval period, like 5th or 6th century. And there is very little left of that period except for metal frames in vaults, and the cotton, linen, or wool is all gone. The idea was that there was something that remained when everything else had gone. The metal is in the costumes by the King and Queen, it’s inspired by that, as well as religious components on the Queen and the cape of the King called “votives” or “milagros.” To me, the idea was that these metal plates would be the only thing left of them after they were gone.

Then of course there’s also the idea of armor and going towards the Green Knight, using chainmail, was also about the metal—it was fascinating to me how little else stays.

I also mentioned the religious component and the idea of honor—that is in the costumes as well.

BTL: How do you translate these ideas into costumes? Not just religion and honor but also destiny, free will, and other not visual concepts—how do you translate all that into a visual craft?

Turzanska: The Gawain cape was the most physical example of that—it was quilted in an enlarged thumbprint shape. The idea is that this is the individual, this is his story. The story telling adds to it—is he making the decisions, or is it the mother, or is it fate? But the thumbprint is the visualization of the idea of the self, of free will.

GreenKnight_Costumes6BTL: What other role did you have with how the Green Knight himself looked?

Turzanska: I have never done anything like makeup or a mask before, and honestly it is not my forte, so I needed someone to help drafting that part of the sketch. Then we had Barry [Best, the film’s prosthetic mould maker ],  who did makeup and created the face for the Knight. From there, we worked closely together to figure out how to incorporate the tree-like nature of his face and hands to combine it with the armor I had created. Also, the cloak is tree bark. David is vegan, so the main characters use no fur and no leather. We used a lot of tree bark and pineapple leather for all the main characters. The tree bark acts a bit like leather if you treat it right, and it looks both like tree and felt. (We were trying not to use felt, as well.) But it was very satisfying to basically use a tree to make him look like a tree. Also, the armor had alphabet markings—I looked for alphabets that were way more ancient that the time the story is set in, which was another interesting part of the research.

BTL: How did you research this alphabet?

Turzanska: I wanted the letters shaped in a way that was very removed from the more ornate world we were set in. I found an alphabet kind of randomly to be honest. I had a list of its letters, I wrote words, and had translated them. If someone reads that ancient alphabet, someone would read words on his cape.

GreenKnight_Costumes22BTL: Beyond the Knight, what were your favorite costumes and why?

Turzanska: I really loved the mother and sisters again because that went to the idea of the multi-dimensional movements. I did want from the beginning a fabric that was a different color tone from the other side. I could not find one that was light enough to do the movement on the costumes that we wanted them to do. So it was all gray, but I spent three weekends spraying a rusty brown on the other side.

I also was very proud of the work on the Queen and King, with the plate coverings and the religious symbols, and also the crowns—I could not believe we could make those works. The idea of royalty being so close to God in those times was important for those. They were copper plates.

BTL: What about the Lady and the Sir, what was the approach there?

Turzanska: That was inspired by the architecture of the place where we shot—it was very intricate, so we pleated their outfits. They were very frivolous in a way, compared to the world where Gawain comes from. That was another fun project and a huge one—we designed those from scratch as well. 

But I had a phenomenal team, and so, wherever we were going, they were right there with me. Including the satchel that Gawain wears around his waist. It looked different and complex than what it looks like ultimately — we went back to make it simple and hide the complexity inside it. The magic was on the inside for that one.

The Green Knight is now playing in theaters nationwide. All pictures courtesy A24 and Ms. Turzanska. (Click on images for larger versions.)

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