Costumes from Hollywood drama on show at Holkham

Chris HillA collection of award-winning costumes from the sumptuous Hollywood drama The Duchess will go on show today in the Norfolk stately home where the film was shot. CHRIS HILL was given a sneak preview of the exhibition in the opulent surroundings of Holkham Hall.Chris Hill

With stars like Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes enthralling the cinema audience, the fine detail of the actors' wardrobe can easily be overlooked.

And when hit movie The Duchess appeared on the silver screen, the fleeting close-ups of their costumes belied the hours of work taken to recreate the intricate tailoring of the 18th century.

But today, for the first time, the public will get a closer look at the custom-made aristocratic finery worn by the stars in an exhibition at Holkham Hall, where pivotal scenes for the film were shot.

The exhibition takes place in the Saloon at the top of the magnificent Marble Hall - both settings used by film crews striving to recreate the London home of the Duke of Devonshire, played by Fiennes.

His costume will be shown alongside an elaborate dress - made from seersucker fabric and finished with lace trim and a silk sash - which was worn by Knightley in her role as Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire.

The two stars' outfits and three children's dresses on display were among those designed by costumier Michael O'Connor, who won an Oscar and a Bafta for his work on the film.

Most Read

Yesterday, the mannequins were dressed by Christine McSweeney, exhibitions co-ordinator for London-based film and theatre costumiers Cosprop, which made many of the garments.

She said the level of precise detail which went into each costume would be worthy of the Duchess herself.

Mrs McSweeney said: "I think it is safe to say as much effort went into Keira's dress as would have gone into one of the Duchess's.

"We always try to use fabrics which are 'period-correct' to give the right feel and make sure they fall correctly from the actors' bodies.

"The underwear is also correct for the time. A lot of actors do not understand where their character is coming from until they are sewn into a dress with a corset and several layers of petticoats underneath - then they have to walk correctly because it is all you can do."

Mrs McSweeney said the Duchess's dress at the exhibition came from a later scene in the film, so the design also had to reflect changes in fashion during the story's timeline.

"This dress was chosen because it appears in the scenes shot here at Holkham Hall," she said. "It is not so wide in the hips and is more rounded at the back.

"The designer would have researched the dress of the period, drawn designs and done fittings with the actors to make sure everything was right. They even look at the shape of their face and the colour of their skin tone."

The costumiers occasionally used original fabric trims to replicate the muted colours of the day, and some pieces of jewellery were found in antiques markets. Although sewing machines were used to speed the manufacture, any important visible seams were hand-stitched.

Mrs McSweeney said: "I can remember one scene where the Duchess is wearing a dress with hand-printed panels which was also embroidered by hand, but she was standing in front of a balcony so no-one ever saw it."

Holkham Hall, the home of Lord Coke and his family, was chosen alongside Chatsworth House and Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire to provide the historic setting for the film.

Built between 1734 and 1764 it suited the late-18th century setting of the story perfectly. A 100-strong film crew descended on the Norfolk estate for two weeks in October 2007, with the finished film released last September.

To accompany the exhibition, staff at the hall have produced a series of story boards showing visitors the various film locations and photographs from the filming to remind them of when Hollywood came to Holkham.

Laurane Herrieven, marketing manager at Holkham Hall, said: "We have worked really hard to get the costumes which were specific to the scenes in the Saloon here at


"We wanted to give people the opportunity to get up close to these wonderful costumes, and to see the value to us of using the hall as a location for such a prestigious film."

The Duchess Exhibition runs until the end of August 2009 during Holkham Hall's opening times of midday to 4pm on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The hall occasionally closes for major events, so to check opening times, visit