We might only have just romped through episode three of BBC 2’s Versailles, but it’s been rock ‘n roll viewing to say the least. The “hysterical historical drama” has served up sex, intrigue, cross-dressing and most importantly, great hair. With an unprecedented £24 million budget (twice as much as Downton Abbey) the costume and wig department is sumptuous to say the least.
On an average shooting day, there are 20-25 machinists and costume specialists on-site to co-ordinate, fit and maintain the vision of costume designer Madeline Fontaine. Anna Brewster who plays Madame de Montespan, tells The Telegraph that each character not only has costumes custom-made (nothing is recycled from the BBC archives), but a bespoke colour palette in line with the character's arc.
Of her own clothing rail, which riffs on a sumptuous array of brown velvets and gold lamé, Brewster tells The Telegraph that the weight of the fabrics was difficult to endure during shooting. “Sometimes the women could be wearing up to five layers, the bottom of which was a huge duvet-like underskirt and knee-high socks! I would be wafting my legs between takes!”
Getting Versailles-ready each day took Brewster, on average, two hours. Being sewn into the made-to-measure corset (crafted weeks before the first episodes were filmed) and dressed by the costumiers took one hour, with the wig fitting and preening occupying the rest of the time.
The wigs, arguably the main focal point of the programme, might look spectacularly glossy, but, Brewster says, they could be a real headache to wear. “After five months of filming, your neck starts to ache a lot!” she says, rubbing her neck in memory.
Ladies during that period (the show chronicles the death of Louis' mother in 1667 onwards) would only get dressed at midday, Brewster explains to The Telegraph. “They would only wear the heavy layers and wigs for four or five hours, and then retire. We had to wear them for 16 hours on some shoot days!”
It was easy to get into character thanks to such rigid period dress and the sumptuous backdrop of the countless chateaus, Brewster recalls, but what about being in a state of undress? The amount of nudity in Versailles has been the most-talked about thing about the series. For Brewster, nudity was simply necessary to tell the story, and the relationships (read: scandal) of the time. As co-creator David Wolstencroft tells The Telegraph of the romantic mood, “You could lose a partner at midnight and be married at 9am to someone entirely different.”
Far more troubling for Brewster were those itchy knee-high socks. "Could she not roll them down under the protection of the duvet and skirts?" we asks in earnest. “I hadn’t thought of that!” replies Brewster.
If you see some baggy sock action in season two, which the actress and model is filming in Paris now, don’t blame us...
Anna Brewster is signed to Next Models