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Henry IV and Henry V: Q&A with the costume designer

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Eliza Kessler Eliza Kessler | 12:31 UK time, Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Hollow Crown is a series of four adaptations of Shakespeare's History Plays on BBC Two starting with Richard II. Annie Symons is the costume designer on the three continuing films: Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. Annie talked to me about the creative and practical process of clothing the cast.

How do you research the costumes for these three films?

I started seven or eight weeks before filming. Normally it's shorter but this needed a lot of prep.

Paintings are critical for research. It's not just a literal view of what people wore. I look for other information - feel, colour, sense, something that will unlock the ideas.

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Henry V (Tom Hiddleston) declares no surrender ahead of The Battle of Agincourt

In this case there are relatively few paintings from the early 15th Century so I looked at artefacts, I went to buildings, I tried to understand what it was like to live in those days.

We looked at war films and thought about what it was like to be a soldier. We wanted to appeal to a war film audience, to contemporise it and strip out all the pageantry and pare things down.

I looked at football hooligans, the way they move and wear colours. We thought about war as sport which it definitively was in the age of chivalry.

We decided they were football teams and Alan MacDonald and I chose dark congealed bloods for England and beautiful blues, whites and golds for France. It's very subtle and I think the way it is graded looks incredibly beautiful. It is perceptible but it's not in your face.

How much creative freedom do you get?

Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock are theatre directors so they are used to working in a way which is different to TV. Conceptually you build things together. It's a much slower development and I love that. I'm interested in colours and concepts and literally the big picture and how it all fits together. So I was in heaven really.

There is a lot of fighting in armour, how do you accommodate this?

Flexibility is critical as it's basically an action film. Tom Hiddleston is an action hero and the fights are extreme physical endurance, we honed those costumes like building a second skin.

Tom Hiddleston covered in mud as Prince Hal in Henry IV part 1

Tom as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1

We made his armour out of rubber and he was sewn into things at times. It was precisely fitted so he could move and look sexy because he's got an amazing physique. It's like working with a finely tuned instrument and you work very hard to get it right.

The French had to look particularly shiny and scary and mannered but for the English we stripped the armour away for some characters and just put little bits on so you got a sense of metal.

Do the actors have input?

Yes, that's part of the process. It was a big journey for Tom, from playing Prince Hal to Henry V. Doing Agincourt felt like we were going to climb Everest. We had lots of fittings and chucked things around.

Some actors are quite happy to put on what you give them, but it can inform their performance and certainly what they say informs you as the designer.

Jeremy Irons is extraordinary in costume and that was a very interesting journey. The first thing he said was "I want this to be real."

We chose clothes that looked like they belonged to him, very old things. He had to look frail yet majestic, so he wears this enormous overwhelming fur coat and this sort of bobble hat with no bobble.

He told me they invented bobble hats to keep the helmets up because they were incredibly uncomfortable. Also old men cover their heads because they get cold. All these elements grew out of fittings.

Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is crowned King Henry V in Henry IV Part 1

The transformation: Henry V is crowned

It's a huge cast, how did you clothe them all?

We ran! It was a huge physical and logistical feat.

I chose a look and we stuck to it, particularly in Henry IV. Richard wanted the whole of Westminster to look like men in suits so we put nearly everybody in black and all you see is the face.

Also we very deliberately put everybody in leather trousers. Because they are in the rain we could wipe them clean so they only needed one pair. It gave them a masculinity and a sexuality and a warrior-likeness. Even for the older men - it changes their performance making them virile and vital.

We shot Henry V first. So we re-dyed the armies in-between Henry V and Henry IV from pale blue into dark bluey green.

There is a lot of mud, how did you cope?

The mud is an entity in itself. It's very heavy and it wrecks clothes so in between shooting days we had to hose things down to try and preserve them.

We worked in tents with blow dryers going and as a lot of the costumes are hired we spent a month cleaning and restoring them.

The Earl of Worcester (David Hayman) and Sir Richard Vernon (Mark Tandy) covered in mud in Henry IV part 1

The Mud! Battle scene in Henry IV Part 1

What got you into costume design?

I think it's been hardwired in me since I was tiny. I started making costumes for my dolls from watching BBC dramas. I remember watching Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R and being completely amazed.

Then I started making clothes for school plays and working in the local theatre. I couldn't quite believe that if you drew something it could then become three-dimensional and real.

I just thought that it was magic, and I still do which is just as well when you're working 18 hour days in the mud! I'm thrilled to bits to be doing it and I think that's what gets me up at four in the morning!

Annie Symons is the costume designer for Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V.

Eliza Kessler is the researcher on the BBC TV blog.

Henry IV Part 1 was originally scheduled for Saturday, 7 July at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. Due to extended Wimbledon coverage it was actually broadcast at the later time of 10pm, and was repeated on BBC Four on Sunday 8 July at 9pm.

For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

The films are part of Shakespeare Unlocked and the 2012 Festival.

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


  • Comment number 1.

    "Henry IV Part 1 is on Saturday, 7 July at 9pm on BBC Two. "

    That was not true.

  • Comment number 2.

    I too switched to BBC2 to watch Henry IV Part 1 only to find that the tennis was still being shown. The presenter, John Inverdale I believe, made the statement (twice) that they were continuing with the tennis, Ladies Doubles final, and Henry IV would not be shown, furthermore, the news would be delayed until the tennis was finished.
    Not wanting to see the tennis we switched channels, returning later to BBC2 only to find that Henry IV Part 1 was in progress.

    Pretty poor BBC, the world does not revolve around tennis. I accept that cover of the ongoing Men's Doubles final should have continued but continuing with another match and giving out incorrect statements is far from acceptable - there has been enough no notice disruption to the schedules over the last few weeks. Will the programme be rerun so that those of us who were mislead can enjoy it?

  • Comment number 3.

    Until I read comment 2 I had not realised that Henry IV part one had been broad cast. I had switched sides after the doubles.

    The commentator had said that the drama was not going to be shown. As I had not set it up to be recorded, I have missed it. I am furious. I was so keen to watch it. Are you going to re-broad cast it so that all the others in my situation can see it?

  • Comment number 4.

    Twitter from the BBC Press: Apologies for delayed start of The Hollow Crown last night due to late running of tennis. Henry IV Pt1 will be shown again tonight BBC4 9pm

  • Comment number 5.

    I watched Henry IV Part 1 last night [quite happily after the tennis!] and I thought the dramatisation was absolutely excellent. I thought it was imaginative, beautifully shot and the acting was of the highest quality. I studied the text in great depth for an English Literature O Level years ago and I would have just loved to have seen this as an adaptation then. However, full marks to the whole production and acting team for this interpretation of the play - truly the BBC at it's very best; better even than a theatre staging.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hello all, thanks for your comments.

    As mamak59 #4 says, Henry IV Part 1 was shown at the later time of 10pm on Saturday 7 July on BBC Two because of the extended Wimbledon coverage. It was then repeated at 9pm on BBC Four the following day, Sunday 8 July. It’s currently available to watch in iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00s91pm/The_Hollow_Crown_Henry_IV_Part_1/

    I’ve amended the footnote on the blog post. The series continues with Annie’s second film, Henry IV Part 2 this Saturday...


    Eliza Kessler
    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 7.

    I see the King of France in Henry V was wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece, not founded until 8 years after Henry himself died...not that it matters what bling they wear

  • Comment number 8.

    Fantastic drama series. Shakespeare never feels dated. Great production - congratulations to all involved.

  • Comment number 9.

    I enjoyed Henry V very much. However, in the pre-battle speech Henry V mentioned a number of dukes some of which were different from the play I have read. In this [ my play ] he mentions Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester. I don't recall that Bedford and Talbot were mentioned in last night's play [ or did I miss them? ] and yet he mentioned York who isn't mentioned in my play. Why the changes? PS: Will all the plays eventually be available as DVDs?

  • Comment number 10.

    Why was the excellent series Hollow Crown spoilt by inaccuracies?
    The Bishop of Carlisle and Edward Duke of York were portrayed as being of African origin. This could not possible be so.
    Why was it done?

  • Comment number 11.

    No doubt the umpteenth person to point out that Henry's shield as worn on his arming jacket in the early scenes has the royal arms reversed with the fleur-de-lys of France in on his upper left and the lions of England upper right. They should be the other way around

  • Comment number 12.

    Compulsive viewing, especially Richard ll and Henry V. Tom Hiddleston is sensational. The scene between him and the French princess was a sizzler. The war scenes really made sense: for once, "Once more unto the breach" was real, i.e. there was a real "breach" apparent in the wall, which could conceivably be filled up with "English dead". Harry Hotspur and Richard ll also delivered stunning performances. I once saw "Richard ll" at Stratford with Ian Richardson and Richard Pascoe, which was excellent, but this one was way, way better. The weakest links in my opinion were some of the Falstaff/Doll Tearsheet episodes, which I just didn't find convincing or moving enough. Falstaff has to have something about him, not just be a Father Christmas caricature, otherwise why would Prince Hal and all the rest bother with him? He has to have some trace of his former charisma in order for the character to work. I think he should be played by an actor like Hugh Bonneville, who conceivably could charm and seduce and persuade people. Sir John Falstaff must have been something like James Hewitt when he was a young blood. Also, Doll Tearsheet should have more Christine Keeler about her and less of Edna the Inebriate Woman!! Mistress Quickly was too much of a caricature and not enough of a real woman. Why would a diamond geezer like Ancient Pistol fancy her unless she still had some pulling power? I adored the costumes, especially in "Richard ll" - really authentic, but I didn't like Henry V's black leather codpiece in the tennis balls scene - it looked like a tennis ball itself, it undermined his dignity and was embarrassing to the viewer. Annie Symons should have designed a more voluminous "cote-hardie" or whatever you call it, to give him greater elegance and majesty. Other than these niggles, "The Hollow Crown" is a masterpiece and sets a new standard in TV Shakespeare.

  • Comment number 13.

    p.s. How come Alun Armstrong was about 30 years old in 1983, when he was in "Krull" and he's still about 30 years old 29 years later in 2012, when he played Harry Hotspur???

  • Comment number 14.

    Hotspur was being played by Alun Armstrong's son, Joe. Alun was playing Hotspur's father, Northumberland. Agreed, the family resemblance is very marked.

  • Comment number 15.

    Noibla wrote:
    "Why was the excellent series Hollow Crown spoilt by inaccuracies?
    The Bishop of Carlisle and Edward Duke of York were portrayed as being of African origin. This could not possible be so.
    Why was it done?"
    It is not an inaccuracy, in the sense we are not supposed to infer from the casting that the characters are of African origin. It is in the tradition of "colour blind" casting, which assumes that unless racial identity or origin is a specific dramatic issue, we are mature enough to judge a performance on the quality of acting, and suspend our disbelief when it comes to the ethnicity of the actor. The approach may initially seem strange and intrusive to some people, but it isn't that difficult to get used to. And the fact is that if this approach isn't adopted as the standard one, then with the exception of the occasional African setting production of plays like the recent RSC Julius Caesar, an awful lot of very talented actors will be de facto excluded from 'mainstream' productions of the classic repertoire. And given how brilliant that production was, it would be a great pity (from the audience pov) if actors that talented hardly ever get a chance to spread their classical wings.

  • Comment number 16.

    juju suggests we should all be "colour blind" and, in this "condition", be blind to historical inaccuracies.
    Can we therefore look forward to seeing Cetshwayo, King of Zululand, in a remake of the film Zulu, being played by a white actor who has the "talent" to do so, and half of the Zulu warriors being represented by "talented" whites? I suggest, however desirable some politically correct people may think this "colour blindness" may be, the portrayal would look rather "strange"

  • Comment number 17.

    Nobila wrote:
    "Why was the excellent series Hollow Crown spoilt by inaccuracies?"

    It's almost like it was an interpretation of history via the medium of fiction, eh? I was wondering how they sent the film crew hundreds of years back in time to get this footage.

  • Comment number 18.

    Entelechy wrote: It's almost like it was an interpretation of history via the medium of fiction, eh? I was wondering how they sent the film crew hundreds of years back in time to get this footage.

    If they went back they would find no blacks in Norman-Anglo Saxon England - especially a black Edward Duke of York or Bishop of Carlisle.
    I suspect the portrayal we saw was because the BBC was following the Greg Dyke trail and looked upon that period as being "hideously white". To "correct" it and make it less "offensive" black faces had to be introduced. The bending of reality to make it more "acceptable" now seems to be the fashion.

  • Comment number 19.

    The Bishop of Carlisle and Edward Duke of York were portrayed as being of African origin.

    This is not about giving black actors a chance to act in the "Classics" this is about the BBC being politically motivated. The same reason why they used Black and Asian actors in the children's television series "Robin Hood". The Bishop of Carlisle and Duke of York were not African and should not be portrayed as such no more than Kenneth Branagh should play Malcolm X; and what breast beating and hand wringing would there be from the white luvies if it was ever proposed in the BBC casting department.


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