Credit: Jack English / Focus Features Credit: Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

Darkest Hour costume designer Jacqueline Durran on Winston Churchill’s capsule wardrobe

In the first of a two-part series, we speak to Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran about transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour

If you don’t know Jacqueline Durran by name, you’ll definitely recognise her work. This BAFTA and Oscar winning costume designer has not only created period dresses for Pride and Prejudice and MI6 suits for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but was the mastermind behind Keira Knightley’s iconic green dress in Atonement.

Jacqueline Durran

That dress from Atonement

This year, Jacqueline was nominated twice(!) for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work bringing our childhood to life in Beauty and the Beast, and for giving that extra touch of realism to Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (which led to his BAFTA and Oscar for Best Actor.)

We sat down to chat to Jacqueline Durran about designing around a fat suit, sourcing replicas and the mystery of Winston’s missing measurements…

How true did you want to stay to the records of Churchill?
‘The first thing I did was compile boards of Churchill, and what becomes quite clear quite quickly is that Churchill pretty much wears similar things almost the whole way through his life. He often wore a black jacket, black waistcoat and striped trousers, with the same watch, and the same bowtie, and he also had his ‘siren suit’ look and his striped suit. So I broke it down into the looks and I talked with Gary [Oldman] and with Joe [Wright, Darkest Hour’s director] about what they wanted their Churchill to be. We decided we’d do the black jacket look, the striped suit, the dressing gown and that was pretty much it!’

jacqueline Durran

Jacqueline Durran with her 2012 Oscar for Best Costume Design for Anna Karenina

Where did you get the costumes from?
‘I went back as much as possible to the original sources, so I looked at which tailors he used and Henry Poole in Savile Row were very happy to make suits for me. Lock & Co – who made Churchill’s hats – made his hats for the movie, and Turnbull & Asser – who used to make his shirts – made his shirts for the movie! We tried to do everything we could to be as authentic as possible – Churchill’s family even sent us photos of his ring so that we could replicate it. What I really wanted to find out were Churchill’s measurements, but none of the tailors had them…’

What was it like designing around prosthetics and a fat suit?
‘The prosthetics and the fat suit were developed in Los Angeles. I went to Gary’s first fitting with Joe in Los Angeles and I hired a costume which we put over the first iteration of the fat suit. We couldn’t start building the costumes until the shape of the fat suit was finalised: you can’t really judge a fat suit until you’ve dressed it.

It also depends on how the prosthetics and the costume interact. It might look right if you’re just looking at the prosthetic, but when you put a shirt on and the fold of the fat rolls back over the top of the collar, you think, ‘Yeah that is exactly what it would look like!’

Words by Victoria Fell

Darkest Hour is available on Digital May 21, and available on Blu-Ray™, 4K Ultra HD™ and DVD June 4, 2018. It is available to pre-order here

Next time:  Jacqueline Durran talks feminism, designing costumes for men and working with Keira Knightley

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