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Making Macbeth: Week Three

By Will Haydon | 3rd July 2015

“Kit said to me that the Angus family, Lady Angus – she is a footballer’s girlfriend.” I’ve caught Kimie, the Macbeth costume designer, on set and ask her about the thinking behind the exquisite outfits on show among Macbeth’s dinner guests today.

Between takes at the banquet table. All photography by Ben Bentley.

Between takes at the banquet table. All photography by Ben Bentley.

Kimie, whose resumé includes a stint as assistant costume designer for Akira Kurosawa, had just been waxing lyrical about highbrow muses from Goya to Peter Greenaway – but if her mention of WAGs as a creative influence is a little incongruous, it’s also perfectly illustrative of the melting-pot nature of this Macbeth’s costumes.

Kimie Nakano, costume designer, with team member Viv

Kimie Nakano, costume designer, with team member Viv

Although Kimie plundered a wide range of influences for her work on this film, none of her costumes recognisably belongs to any culture or tradition, in keeping with Kit’s brief and Kimie’s penchant for timeless and dislocated design. The end result is a kind of alienated familiarity, in which the costumes have an inherent logic – soldiers wear what might be leather armour with blood-red shirts underneath, for example – but have no external anchor in our world.

The bloody captain, played by Wil Johnson, gets bloodier still

The bloody captain, played by Wil Johnson, gets bloodier still

Macbeth offers the chance for a radical and symbolic visual change in the two lead characters at the moment they ascend to power, an opportunity often seized upon by costume departments. The GSP team make full use of this opportunity. Not only have Kimie and her team designed a wardrobe’s worth of costumes for Macbeth and his wife to switch between according to mood, but the hair and make-up crew – headed by designer Jo Sweeting – also stay busy.

Lady Macbeth, for example, goes through four drastic hairstyle changes from first appearance to last, telegraphing in increments her fluctuating emotional purchase on her surroundings.

Lady Macbeth (Akiya Henry) in one of many guises

Lady Macbeth (Akiya Henry) in one of many guises

Though crafted with the explicit objective of eschewing time and place, the costumes – beautifully layered with thick, lush fabric – are probably better suited to wintry Dunsinane than the midsummer heatwave at Bubwith. You can’t help but pity the actors as they sweat it out under the lights: the signature move of David Bark-Jones, playing the regally kitted-out King Duncan, is to grasp his heavy robe and waft vigorously. Production runners, armed with handheld fans and handkerchiefs, swoop in between takes to cool down the actors, and youngsters on work experience from local schools are tasked with opening doors whenever filming stops to maintain a steady breeze.

Mark Rowley and Al Weaver as Macbeth and Banquo

Mark Rowley and Al Weaver as Macbeth and Banquo

NEXT WEEK is a busy one for Mark Rowley, playing Macbeth, who’ll be on the set every day debating the pros and cons of regicide, doing deals with murderers and preparing for battle with the English. We’ll try to catch up with him and leading lady Akiya Henry for a chat about how they’ve approached this canonical play.

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