Gentlemanly appearance

Gentlemanly appearance

March 14, 2024

Job Description

Production designer Martyn John and costume designer LouLou Bontemps escort DQ into the world of The Gentlemen to detail how they created the look and fashion of Guy Ritchie’s series based on his own 2019 film.

As the director of comedy crime films including Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Guy Ritchie knows more than most about taking viewers into heightened worlds featuring an eclectic mix of characters, from gangsters to the upper-class elite.

With his 2019 film The Gentlemen, the director returned to the genre with the story of a cannabis mogul whose plan to sell his marijuana empire following his retirement triggers an array of plots and schemes from those looking to pick up his business.

A Netflix series of the same name, produced by Moonage Pictures in association with Miramax Television, now revisits that setup with a new cast and story. MAking his small-screen debut, Ritchie co-writes and produces the eight-part series, as well as directing the first two episodes.

It stars Theo James (The White Lotus S2) as Eddie Horniman, who unexpectedly inherits his father’s sizeable country estate – only to discover it’s part of a cannabis empire. Moreover, a host of unsavoury characters from Britain’s criminal underworld want a piece of the operation.

Determined to extricate his family from their clutches, Eddie tries to play the gangsters at their own game. However, as he gets sucked into the world of criminality, he begins to find a taste for it.

Guy Ritchie (right) on set with actor Giancarlo Esposito

“The world of The Gentlemen is a little bit of me,” says Ritchie. “I’m thrilled that with Netflix, Miramax and Moonage Pictures we have this opportunity to inhabit it once again. We’re looking forward to bringing fans back into that world, introducing new characters and their stories.

“The aristocracy is somewhat embarrassed by money and the old-fashioned way it receives it. It tries to hide its wealth, whereas new money likes to show it off. But when you put the two together, the old money rubs off a bit on the new and the new rubs off a bit on the old. And that fusion of the two is really where all the fun lies.”

Ritchie and Matthew Read write the series with Haleema Mirza, Billy and Theo Mason Wood, Stuart Carolan and John Jackson. Other directors include Nima Nourizadeh, Eran Creevy and David Caffrey, while the ensemble cast also features Kaya Scodelario, Daniel Ings, Joely Richardson, Vinnie Jones, Giancarlo Esposito and Chanel Cresswell.

Meanwhile, the series reunites Ritchie with production designer Martyn John and costume designer LouLou Bontemps, who were charged with bringing the world of The Gentlemen to the small screen. They have both previously worked with the director on films including The Covenant and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.

Here, John and Bontemps tell DQ about bringing the world of The Gentlemen to the small screen, partnering with Ritchie and the key elements to each of their roles.

Theo James stars as Eddie, who unexpectedly inherits his father’s estate – and cannabis business

How did you join the project, and what was your interest in The Gentlemen?
John: I was the supervising art director on the Gentlemen film, working for the designer Gemma Jackson, and I started to design for Guy after we finished that film. We knew it was a possibility that there might be a TV series as a spin-off. When that happened, Guy approached me and asked me if I’d design it for him, based on what Gemma had done for the film.

Bontemps: I had worked with Guy Ritchie previously, and after reading the first two episodes – and of course, being a fan of the film – I knew it was going to be a brilliant project.

How would you describe the world of the show? What were your first thoughts on reading the scripts?
John: The scripts were what attracted me to the project. They took the story in a different direction from the film – I thought the first two scripts I read were even better than the film, which was very exciting. I just fell in love with it.

Bontemps: There are many worlds, personalities and interesting cultures that are represented through the costumes. The Halstead family, the Dixons, Uncle Stan, Susie Glass. They’re all unique to their surroundings, their environments, the different worlds in which they grew up. So much happens in the first two episodes, and we needed to set the tone for each of these worlds – along with a little heightened fun and style in the true Guy Ritchie fashion.

The show features many characters with strong individual style, including Kaya Scodelario’s Susie

How big a role did the film play in your work on the series?
John: It was a continuation of the work we did on the film. It was exciting to be able to continue creating this world.

Bontemps: It’s so different from the film that there really wasn’t much, costume-wise, to link them. Our lead, Eddie, also doesn’t really dress like a Mickey P gentleman [Matthew McConaughey in the film] until much further into the story, intentionally so. There is some authentic but heightened country wealth fashion that we see, versus American, but it’s not really in the same light as the film.
But there is a moment I intentionally wanted to recreate, a little homage to the film, where we follow Susie [Scodelario]’s red-bottomed shoes into the market wearing a tweed co-ord and red Birkin. It’s so much fun and such a juxtaposition to her surroundings, so very Susie. This was a reference to the scene with Rosalind Pearson [Michelle Dockery] in the film, where we follow her red-bottomed shoes into the garage.

What is your approach to starting a new job?
John: After reading the script, I will research any subject that is involved and the types of sets. For example, for Billingsgate Fish Market, I’ll visit, collect pictures, books or anything that relates to that. From that, I’ll put a mood board together to share with Guy and see what he likes. The set design develops from there.

Bontemps: Discussing the key characters with Guy – he’s the inspiration behind it all, of course. You can absorb so much from him just by talking about who these people are, their personalities, who they hang out with and so on. Then I start work on my design boards per character and key crowds or stunts. Working closely with Martyn, the production designer, and Ed Wild, the DOP, we create the whole visual concept of each scenario.

A boxing ring was among numerous set builds required for the Netflix series

Martyn, what were the key sets or locations you had to design?
John: We choose Babington House as the exterior and one or two of the interior rooms for our manor house. But the costs meant we also had to design corridors and a drawing room in the style of Babington, which we built in a disused house. The boxing world was also key. We looked at numerous locations, but as it is a returning location, we just couldn’t get the availability, so decided to build a boxing ring, based on classic clubs like Repton and Harrow. What we created was an amalgamation of those classic clubs, which Guy loves, with a modern touch.
The series also features one of the drug dealers’ flats, so we explored lots of flats in South London, which we used as inspiration. We then built a set based on our research, but tripled the size to incorporate crew.

You’ve worked with Guy Ritchie in the past. How do you like to work together at different stages of the project?
John: To ensure the dialogue feels very fresh, Guy uses a script as a guideline and is always finessing and changing things. And because of that, you have to be able to react and adapt very, very quickly. It’s an incredibly creative process, but we don’t always know what we’re going to be asked for.
For instance, they could be doing a scene in the living room or the drawing room, and Guy would decide that they were in the dining room, eating lunch, let’s say, or they could be in the grounds having a picnic. So we’ve constantly got to have things on standby or be able to get things quickly. As you can imagine, somewhere like Babington House, you’re drinking wine out of beautiful crystal glasses, eating off silver. So all of that stuff has to be to hand. It’s challenging, but exciting at the same time.

How did you mix studio builds and location dressing? Do you have a preference?
John: I like to build sets. It depends on whether you can find the right location and if it is cost-effective to use that location. For instance, if you have to blow a hole in the floor, you need to build a set. If you can walk into a country house, that is perfect, we will use that, as more often than not they have the pictures, dining table and lighting, and if you build that it is expensive to prop. You have to weigh up what you’re doing there with what you can get out of the location, how long you’ll be there and the costs of putting it into a set.

Daniel Ings (as Freddy) in his chicken suit

Loulou, who were the key characters you had to design for and how did you settle on the final choices?
Bontemps: We establish most of the key cast in the first two episodes. I start with creating a capsule wardrobe or style brief for each one, then we shop, then we fit. We also have to focus on key events, and once each character board was created, we focused on the more stylised looks, like the ball or the ‘chicken suit,’ for example. For cast like Theo, there is a style evolution throughout the show. He starts as the humble soldier returning home to chaos, then slowly evolves into the gentleman gangster we end the series with. Susie is consistent throughout in her style, Freddy [Ings] plays around a lot, often playing dress-up. Uncle Stan [Esposito) makes a statement with each look, Lady M [Richardson] has a charming, unique sense of style and mystery. Geoff [Jones] remains quintessentially Geoff throughout. There are so many characters, so many looks and many iconic moments.

What’s the balance between making new and buying/renting costumes?
Bontemps: When I can make bespoke, I do, as it allows you to really be unique with the look you’re trying to create – unique to the actor and character. I also love to use vintage, as that also allows you to be completely one-off. Renting or loaning tends to happen more with uniforms or luxury items that are totally out of budget to buy. We used a lot of loaned luxury bags and watches on this show.

What challenges did you face ? Was there anything unique or unusual about The Gentlemen?
Bontemps: There were just so many looks, so many story days, so many characters, so many costumes that each episode really felt like its own film. You have to be careful to keep each character unique and true to who they are, who Guy Ritchie wants them to be, and to not overlap with anything you’ve done before. You can’t be too samey but you have to make it believable too. This was an insanely busy shoot from start to finish.

A country house is another key setting in the crime comedy

As the industry faces a difficult time, how is your job affected? What can you do to mitigate that?
Bontemps: I am incredibly fortunate that Guy Ritchie keeps me busy. Experiencing strikes [in the US] like those we’ve just had so soon after the pandemic has made everyone realise how vulnerable we are in this industry. There isn’t a safety net for crew. Most people lost their savings to the pandemic; those savings cover costs when you’re out of work. I recently visited New York and caught up with colleagues there who have been out of work for over a year. That’s devastating. I hope the industry gets back up on its feet as soon as possible.

What are you working on next?
John: I’m currently working on a big-budget Guy Ritchie film for Skydance Media called Fountain of Youth.

Bontemps: Since The Gentlemen, I have worked on [Ritchie feature] The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, which comes out in April, and I cannot wait for the world to see it. It’s set in the late 30s and early 40s, some of my favourite decades in fashion history, and it’s another job where I am incredibly proud of what my team and I achieved together. Don’t miss it!

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