Lark Rise: I design the costumes and corsets

Sunday 9 January 2011, 09:00

Pam Downe Pam Downe Costume Designer

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For a costume designer, Lark Rise To Candleford is an interesting project to work on. The research beforehand means I get to spend hours looking at photographs and paintings of the period. It's a part of the job I particularly enjoy.

For this fourth series of Lark Rise To Candleford I spent four weeks designing and preparing the costumes and three months filming.

Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan),Gabriel Cochrane (Richard Harrington), Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha) and Minnie (Ruby Bentall)

This spanned from July to October in 2009 and thankfully the majority of this happens in the Bath and Bristol area, which is handy as I live in Bath and the commute is a doddle.

I have designed programmes set in the 1890s before - one called Uncle Silas comes to mind as it had a similar rural subject matter.

The difference with Lark Rise To Candleford is that now it is in its fourth series the characters are well defined. The Pratt sisters, for instance, have very much evolved into the kind of WAGs of their day.

They pore over fashion plates from Paris (the fashion magazines of the time) and copy them but don't get them quite right - the fabrics are a bit too loud and their outfits verge on the tasteless.

This becomes more apparent when they stand alongside Dorcas, who tends to dress more elegantly and wears shapes that suit her, rather than what's the latest fashion.

For example, she has small proportions and the big leg of mutton sleeves that are fashionable would overwhelm her. The Pratts, on the other hand, don't give a damn - it's fashion, they will wear it.

Corsets are, of course, very much part of the female silhouette in this period and I love the way that the female actors shapes can radically change when they are in costume.

Julia Sawalha as Dorcas Lane

Julia Sawalha, who plays Dorcas, has a particularly malleable waist and I find it amazing how small a waist we managed to achieve with her.

Julia loved to wear her corset. Most of the cast found them uncomfortable and wanted to take them off at lunch time to have more freedom.

The only problem was that they then had to put them back on again and wear them for another five hours which they found even harder to take.

As much as I like designing around corsets, I also like to design more contemporary programmes.

I recently finished working on a 1940s project called The Night Watch for BBC Two, which involves doing as much research as for the 1890s and throws up different challenges such as the accuracy of Second World War uniforms.

This programme is based on a book by Sarah Waters and starts off post-war in 1947 and then moves backwards in time to 1944 and then 1941.

It is about the lives of four women and how they cope with the end of the war when suddenly they aren't needed in the work force anymore, and how their paths cross.

It was exciting to do, as there were blitz scenes and it was a nice change from Lark Rise To Candleford.

Luckily this was also shot in Bath and happened directly after Lark Rise To Candleford so it was relatively easy for my team and I to roll on to it (apart from being very tired).

My own style is pretty simple - I don't want to think about what I wear too much (I do enough of that for the actors).

The most important factor is comfort and, seeing as I spend 12 hours a day on my feet and am often dashing about picking up costumes that have been overlooked or added at the last minute, comfortable footwear is particularly important.

Also, much time is spent outside on exterior locations so warmth is an issue in winter especially. The Night Watch involved many night shoots in sub zero temperatures. I wear lots of layers and big padded jackets - oh, the glamour of it all!

Pam Downe is the costume designer for Lark Rise To Candleford.

Watch a clip of Pam and make up and hair designer, Lesley Faulkner talking about how they created Gabriel's look.

Series four of Lark Rise To Candleford begins on BBC One and BBC One HD at 8pm on Sunday, 9 January. Episode one is repeated on the BBC HD channel at 8pm on Monday, 10 January.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I was struck this year but the wearing of the cloth bonnets of the working class women - Excellent. its missed so often in other series that women would have had their heads covered.
    There is fascinating footage of 1900's workers leaving the factories with most women (but not all) shawled in a hijab sort of way - tightly wrapped about the heads and faces.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    for "but" read "by"
    sorry xx

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    What year? is Larkrise supposed to be set. I have a photograph of my Great Grandmother taken when she was 21 in 1892, the hairstyle and fashion no huge
    'Mutton sleeves' yet that year! are quite different to 1899. I know accuracy and entertaing drama are always in conflict but how many dresses would a country Postmistress really have ...Dorcas seems to have a new one every episode, which is great TV but would it have been fact?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Why is this series of Candleford being shortened to six episodes instead of the twelve it should have been when we have mindless programmes that go on for months. Dramas used to be BBC`s forte but they seem to be losing lately to ITV with Downton

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I enjoy designing and making historical costumes as a hobby - total escapism from my real work as an accountant - and it is absolutely fascinating. Getting the undergarments right is so important, particularly the right corset, to get just the right shape. Hard work but worth it if you are going to get the overall look spot on, then properly finished off with hat, gloves, etc. I've really enjoyed Candleford for the costumes - well done! Now back to my own sewing as it is less than 7 weeks to the Venice carnival...


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