AS: So homework for the Young Victoria involved reading a lot of books. Were there also movies?
PV: You know the film that really inspired me was the Leopard by Visconti for the richness of the look. That’s the film that I really devoured aesthetically. Which had nothing to do with what we were shooting except that it was a period film. I like the richness of it. I like the colors of it.
My approach to art direction is not to try to overshadow the story but to accompany it and give little clues on the characters. The duchess of Kent, she’s nouveau riche, she wants to become the Queen of England but she will never be. So in art direction you give cues in her environment and in the rooms that belong to her. You give the cue that there’s too much gold, you know, it’s overdone. Nowadays people who want to show off their money overdo it.
Every room has got to tell a story, a strong story. It’s the backbeat of the real story, like the bass line on a piece of music.
AS: Almost subliminal…
PV: It has to be invisible but in a certain way tell a subliminal story.
I like to play with symbolism a lot as well. For example with Queen Victoria when she’s sharing her room with her mother in Kensington. The color of the paint is incandescent green- my painters had to work hard to get it. It was a very difficult color to attain because of the incandescence of it. During that period some people were using arsenic paint. So basically the room was poisoning her while her life was being poisoned by the people who surrounded her.
I’m just going into the details but there’s a broader philosophy within the production design of that film. For another example let’s take the last room where we see King Edward in Windsor. I chose to do that room on location, but in a small chapel in a castle that we found. Because it’s just before he dies -you know, he’s in the chapel. He’s ready to leave, you know. So it’s religious symbolism.
Each room plays a role like that. I treat each room as characters in the film but then within the room you can add extra details. In the corridor which links all these rooms in Buckingham Palace the colors are bright because she’s free. Victoria is now queen, she’s blossoming as a young woman. But at the end where she meets with Conroy and she asks him to exit we had a big painting of Christ pointing outside.
Remember when Melbourne, the prime minister, picks up a letter underneath Victoria’s desk, the blue letter from Albert? In that scene we put a door holder, a brass door holder which has the figure of a fox.
AS: So as he’s reaching down to the ground—
PV: In the shot you see a fox.