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Like “The Godfather,” Peter Morgan’s “The Crown” kicked off with a wedding to set the grandeur and intimacy for the entire series. The marriage of Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Philip (Matt Smith) marked a new beginning for England in 1947 — it was like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of World War II.
In real life, the actual wedding was modest. But director Stephen Daldry and his team opted not to hold back. It would give the wrong impression. So the crafts team played a few tricks while delivering pageantry at its most personal.
Production Designing a ‘Jewel Within That Ashen World’
For Oscar-winning production designer Martin Childs (“Shakespeare in Love”), there were two difficult challenges: the austerity of the wedding and shooting in Ely Cathedral (where they also shot the coronation) in place of Westminster Abbey.
Alex Bailey/Courtesy of Netflix
“In my very first meeting with Stephen, I did a digital drawing summary making the magnificent palatial house tumbling down, which metaphorically expressed the period,” said Childs. “But it’s very hard to portray that, especially in ‘Episode One’ of a massive series about the royal family. It would look like we were impoverished rather than the country being impoverished. So I took it as an opportunity to create a jewel within that ashen world. We filled the place with flowers, we filled the place with people, and it became an arena for something wonderful happening in a rather sad, austere world.”
Childs went for graphic simplicity: holding back the reds, filling the space with white, and show off the magnificent arches. “I had the architecture, so all I had to add was the wedding,” Childs said.
Humanizing the Wedding with Warmth
Like Childs, Brazilian cinematographer Adriano Goldman also had an early plan that was abandoned: He wanted to mix and match the amazing 35mm archival footage. But hiding Westminster Abbey and achieving a consistent look proved futile. So instead, Goldman achieved a soft, romantic look, shooting with the Sony digital F55. He added period Cooke Speed Panchro lenses, providing a great range of latitude for beautiful highlights and detail in the shadows. Additionally, he used Glimmer glass diffusion filters to further emphasize the hazy light.
“It was a three-day shoot and done early on,” said Goldman. “History, formality, protocol, and visual choices were integral. “The wedding served as the visual template, delivering scale and intimacy. All of the major characters were assembled.”
The key was making us part of the wedding, humanizing the event with warmth. Added Goldman: “The looks, the intimate moments between Elizabeth and Philip, little by little, we got more secure about the choices we discussed in prep. We didn’t have to necessarily follow the storyboard, but we knew all the elements we needed to deliver something big and intimate at the same time.”
Getting the Right Fit for Elizabeth
Costume designer Michele Clapton (three-time Emmy winner for “Game of Thrones”) didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the wedding and the logistics weren’t easy, either. Authenticity, particularly the iconic silhouette was important, as was a comfortable fit for Foy as Elizabeth. “We altered it around the arms slightly because it was a little too full on Claire,” Clapton said.
But in researching the cloth and the intricate beads for the wedding dress, Clapton discovered that fabric doesn’t come as wide as it did back then, so the train wound up about three inches shorter. That alone took six weeks to complete with its own dedicated teams of embroiderers and beaders.
“Some things had to be half-made and then painted or beaded and then fitted before taken to the next stage,” said Clapton. “This was alongside all the other costumes. It was a standalone event — a film within a film. Extras had to be fitted alongside the rest of the other preparations for the wedding.”
Added Clapton: “For Queen Mary [Eileen Atkins], we found her original dress and photographed it and then researched the color because it had faded, and we went to extremes to make it correct.”
Bridesmaids dresses were tweaked too. The skirts, which were white all the way through, had layers of tulle, organza, and silk. “I put on a layer of pink organza about two layers in because it needed more depth for the filming,” said Clapton.
Overall, the costume designer said that contrasts are revealing Elizabeth’s vulnerability as she matures into womanhood. As with everything else about “The Crown,” it achieves a deeply personal story about a very relatable Queen.