The King’s Man (2021) is an origin story for two previous modern-set movies (Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle). All of them are spy/action movies based on a comic book series, but this one is set in the Edwardian era — just before, until midway through, World War I. Ralph Fiennes is the “Duke of Oxford,” who runs a secret spy ring and is busy trying to keep his son from enlisting in the army.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, although I did zip through a few of the action scenes. There’s a fun range of characters, and I liked the connections to real history — while at the same time, groaning as they rewrote certain established facts. But then, that’s what this kind of movie does!
“The cloths then were heavier and we found original pattern books of original fabrics, so it is like coating fabrics that we would use now that suits are made. And you need the fabric to be heavy to create the silhouette, to make movement. We found some coating which we liked, we wove pieces, we found some great Scottish weavers who wove us lengths of fabric for us to make suits from and we found some original pieces” (Costume Designer Michele Clapton On ‘The King’s Man’ Fits).
In what I think is a connection to the later movies, a fictional tailor’s shop called The Kingsman is a key location, and in an early scene, Oxford takes his son, Conrad, to be fitted for his first adult suit. According to the website of the Savile Row tailor Huntsman, Clapton did much of her extensive historical research in their archive:
“Huntsman’s archive of military, equestrian and civilian garments were influential in developing the styles and silhouettes for each character. Our 1919 ledgers revealed new post-war styles, such as the lounge suit, which were influential in creating costumes for the movie. Michelle was particularly conscious of developing a signature style and colour palette for each role. Often Campbell would draft and develop from original patterns from the period” (Huntsman & The King’s Man).
“We found all these books when we were researching, which were fabrics from 1910. They were the old tailors’ books. I found them halfway through when we’d been buying all this fabric, and it was incredible — the colours and brightness — so actually we felt really confident that it could be that bright and that the suits could be lighter in that way” (The Suits of The King’s Man).
Clapton said the director (Matthew Vaughn) gave her five months to research the period, which is an unusually long period of time. This worked because,
“I get to understand what his taste was, and to talk about fabric and colours and show him period pieces — the really high collars, the starchiness of them and then cut of the suits … With the knitwear, again we knitted our own jumpers, we created ties. We even knitted socks and designed the boots and shoes. It doesn’t happen that often when you actually have that much control over the image that you are putting on screen, and that is what made it so exciting” (Interview: How ‘The King’s Man’ Found its Signature Style).
When dressing Fiennes as the Duke of Oxford,
“What we ended up doing was creating a wardrobe of clothes so that we had the suits spotted where we knew that we should have them, but within that in the mornings we would say, “Look, which tie do we think? What is his mood today?” And so, he is very involved in how he thinks his character would be at that moment. With a limited amount of clothing, but it is almost like if we open up the wardrobe door and there it all is, what do I want to wear today?” (Interview: How ‘The King’s Man’ Found its Signature Style).
There’s a definite generational difference between Oxford and his son. I particularly liked Conrad’s more casual wear, but even in formal wear, Clapton says, she made his suits,
“more modern because he’s the young person that younger audiences will relate to. His suits are made by a modern tailor. They have narrow trousers and are high-waisted. The jackets were usually three buttons, cutaway, so you have that lovely length … We looked at lots of catalogues from that time. For instance, the sunglasses that Harris wears on the motorbike, we actually found evidence in the catalogues that they actually had that shape at that time. You wouldn’t believe it because they look so modern” (The suits of The King’s Man).
Oxford’s spy ring mostly consists of two of his servants, played by Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton. Hounsou gets some nice suits, while Arterton’s cover as a nanny means she’s very tweedy too:
One of the genius moves was casting Tom Hollander as cousins King George of Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, all of whom were known for looking very similar. I laughed out loud when the three were introduced!
As you can see, uniforms played a big part in this film. Clapton said that these:
“were truly authentic. We had a lot of original pieces that we model it on and then we created and made a lot of the stuff in Poland. Because military clothing, I had an incredible designer who worked on all the military pieces to ensure it was as correct as we could possibly make it. But I’ve found all the military people disagree, you can have one advisor saying this and another one saying like that” (Interview: How ‘The King’s Man’ Found its Signature Style).
The film jumps around Europe to Hungary:
But the best scenes were with Rhys Ifans as Rasputin. Ifans did an excellently disgusting job with the role, even if his Rasputin was apparently a skilled dancer? But the costumes were also the most fun and glam. Clapton took late 1910s evening dress and made it more art deco than it really should be, and it was certainly pretty even if it was slightly crazy. According to that interview with Grazia, Clapton said,
“I loved the Russian ball. I love when Rasputan [sic] and his two female cohorts walk in and scan around the room. That was a really fun to design for. There was a lot of balls in Russia where they dressed up in traditional Russian headpieces. It was slightly fantastical, which was exactly what happened back then. We made these metal headpieces, and pretty much all of the costumes in the room. It was so satisfying” (A Debonair Bunch: What It Was Like to Design Costumes for the Cast of “The King’s Man”).
A few final thoughts:
Did you catch The King’s Man? What’s your take?