There were only two characters for Albert (other than an out-of-focus ‘visitor’ at the very end), so costuming was easier than for Impasse. As before (with Impasse), we had no costume or makeup budget, so had to make do with what we could cobble together.
Minnie, who played The Woman, is a vivacious and stylish lady in real life, given to elegant shift dresses and pretty shoes, so my main task was to make her look dowdy. After discussion, we had decided that the character was a ‘good woman’, possibly Christian, tending to Brian out of duty rather than love, and that she was probably a widow.
We therefore dressed her as a woman who had basically given up: frumpy and shapeless.
Minnie’s wardrobe proved unsuitable for this – even her gardening clothes were too elegant – but in my wardrobe we found a rather scabby Aran cardigan made by my late mother in law and a 1960s tweed skirt that I bought many years ago to make a cushion cover and never got round to cutting up. The fabric is beautiful but too stiff to wear as a garment.
Minnie found an olive green blouse, a cross and chain, thick brown tights and Ugg-style boots so that she could clump around the place.
We also decided that the character should wear a coat and once again my wardrobe came to the rescue with a vintage Burberry raincoat in navy nylon – beautifully made but hopelessly frumpy. We also added a fleece gilet underneath to cover Minnie’s naturally slim figure.
The pièce de résistance, however, was a hat – Minnie’s sleek grey bob looked healthy and swingy no matter what we did with it, so we had to cover it up entirely. Some years ago I commissioned a number of beanies from a local knitter, Lynne. We tried several Aran and cableknit versions of these, but they created a strobe effect under lighting, so we settled on a beige chenille one that had a flatter finish. It’s meant to be worn with a rolled brim, and looks quite cute this way, but pulled well down over Minnie’s ears, and with her hair tucked up and out of the way, it suddenly aged her 20 years, much to her chagrin and our amusement.
Next came the makeup. In colour tests we tried a white-faced makeup but it was too noticeable in close-up, so we went in the other direction and made Minnie’s complexion blotchy by dotting scarlet lipstick onto her cheeks and blending it in slightly.
I used a pink lipliner as kohl on her lower inner eyelids, to give her red-rimmed eyes, after which Minnie looked in the mirror and exclaimed in dismay: “You’ve turned me into my mother!!” I also brushed her eyebrows downwards – the exact opposite of what you’d do normally.
I then covered her lip-line with foundation to make her lips smaller and asked her to apply a slightly ‘wrong’ orangey and out-of-date lipstick without looking in the mirror, so the line would be haphazard.
As a face powder, to create a slightly chalky, unhealthy effect, I used a lilac powder from Shu Uemura, which is applied with a brush. We also used this as a top-up powder during the shoot.
The Woman would probably only wear lipstick and powder, and after all this treatment, Minnie not only looked like her mother, she looked startlingly like mine…
The Woman probably doesn’t wear mascara, incidentally, but we used it for the shoot because – as Michael Caine once said in a masterclass – if you don’t wear mascara in a movie, you might as well be in a radio play.
It’s interesting to note that Minnie did feel at the end of a day of all this dowdiness that it affected her sense of herself and made her feel older.
John’s costume had to indicate a man who might be ill with a disease such as Alzheimer’s. John himself, however, like Minnie, is very elegant, usually dressing in fine quality knitwear and scarves. He therefore didn’t own a jumper or cardigan that was baggy and disreputable enough, but we found one in Clare, the director’s, house and teamed this with multiple layers of t-shirts. John pulled the cardigan forward over one shoulder, giving himself a hunch.
John also provided black pyjama trousers (we had decided that Brian would be only half-dressed) and he also hit on the idea of white long-johns underneath, with the long-johns showing on one leg. This was a brilliant idea, though it did cause some continuity problems as the pyjamas refused to stay put and had to be constantly tucked back in and checked. As footwear, we used a pair of thick sheepskin slippers.
We used no makeup on John other than lilac powder on his face and head to prevent shine under the lights.
The final character – The Visitor – was a last-minute decision and a crew member stepped into fill the role. We shot it once and then realised that her dark cardigan made the teapot in the final shot less noticeable, so the cardigan was changed for a light-coloured jacket belonging to a male member of the crew. Since the whole thing is out of focus anyway, the shape and fit were unimportant, and no makeup was required.