Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey

By James Rampton
June 26, 2024


In reality, Lady Jane Grey lost her head. However, Prime Video series My Lady Jane imagines an alt-history fantasy where she survived – and thrived. DQ heads to the 16th century set to see the cast and crew at work.

The banqueting hall looks fit for a king. It’s just as well, because one is about to arrive.

The wedding banquet, which is being graced by the presence of King Edward VI, is a central scene from My Lady Jane, a satirical and irreverent new Prime Video period drama that offers an alternative account of the fate of England’s shortest-serving monarch, Lady Jane Grey.

In the banqueting hall, a room filled with ostentatious ivy arches gilded with enough gold to please even King Midas, Edward (Jordan Peters) is about to be treated to a gloriously over-the-top feast.

In the middle of this splendiferous set constructed at Garden Studios in West London stands a gigantic table. It is groaning with a smorgasbord (wrong cuisine, I know) of dishes for the monarch’s delectation and delight. These include an enormous stuffed boar and a dolphin’s head. Lady Jane (played by American actor Emily Bader) jokingly tells the guests: “Try the dolphin. It’s in season. It’s medium-rare.”

Will Hughes-Jones, the production designer on My Lady Jane, quickly steps in to reassure DQ: “Don’t worry. It’s not a real dolphin. It is made of rubber. No dolphins were harmed in the making of this show.”

My Lady Jane stars Emily Bader as the title character, Lady Jane Grey

Also on display is a vast swan pie. Someone has garnished this with gold leaf ivy, as you do, and erupting from the centre of the pie crust are two large swans’ heads. In a romantic gesture, their necks form the shape of a heart as their beaks meet in a kiss.

Again, Hughes-Jones has to issue a hasty explanation: “It is illegal to kill swans. They are all owned by the Crown. In the past, you could eat a swan if you could prove it had died in an accident. But now it’s completely against the law, and if anyone did so, the police would soon be knocking on their door. So ours are made from plaster.”

The set designer adds with a laugh: “We have become hives of useless information. We would be great in a pub quiz.”

Set decorator Gina Cromwell details exactly how the production team manufactured the fake swans. “We had them sculpted from scratch by a sculptor who added flock to the heads, which is a kind of fluffy material that they spray on to look like feathers. It took a long time to make for a very brief shot.”

This lavish set is further adorned by a mighty throne flanked by two giant unicorn statues and a majestic tapestry depicting a carnival of animals. Hughes-Jones reveals that to save time and money on copyright, he commissioned 29 original tapestries for the production. He also gives us a world exclusive that the tapestry maker employed a lot of her own cats as models on these captivating works of art.

As he surveys his magnificent banqueting hall set, Hughes-Jones smiles. “If everything goes wrong, we could always get a job doing decorations for grand parties.”

L-R: The alternative-history series also stars Kate O’Flynn, Dominic Cooper and Rob Brydon

This playful approach to set decoration chimes with the whimsical tenor of My Lady Jane, which is adapted from the bestselling cycle of novels by Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton and Jodi Meadows.

In reality, Lady Jane was Queen of England for just nine days in 1553, before being dethroned by Queen Mary I and beheaded. As a result, Lady Jane has always been viewed as the ultimate damsel in distress, a woman more renowned for her death than her life.

But My Lady Jane, a comic eight-part series with a light dusting of the supernatural, imagines a different outcome for the monarch. It recounts a counterfactual, feminist tale of a free-spirited young Tudor woman who, on becoming Queen and avoiding execution, aims to assert her independence.

The cast also includes Edward Bluemel as Guildford Dudley, Dominic Cooper as Lord Seymour, Anna Chancellor as Jane’s mother, Lady Frances Grey, and Rob Brydon (The Trip) as Lord Dudley, Guildford’s father. Jim Broadbent appears as the Duke of Leicester, Jane’s uncle.

Bader says the title character is “incredibly intelligent and strong-willed, and she has this fiery determination to take control of her own destiny. She is a young woman finding her power and her voice in a world that does not expect her to really have one.”

Will Hughes Jones says the sets were ’embellished with some pretty bonkers things’

However, Lady Jane is under perpetual siege from multiple pretenders to the throne, including the King’s sister, the fanatical Princess Mary (Kate O’Flynn).

It’s Bridgerton meets The Princess Bride meets Carry On Henry.

The story is told with gusto and a broad, often raunchy sense of fun. Hughes-Jones, who has also designed sets for Bridgerton, The Spanish Princess and The White Princess, outlines how that mischievous tone is reflected in his work on My Lady Jane: “After two years of doing Bridgerton, where we threw the rule book away, it was quite easy to do.”

The set designer, who also made use of such spectacular Tudor locations as Hampton Court Palace, Herstmonceux Castle and Dover Castle for this drama, continues: “The humour of the My Lady Jane script bled through to the making of the project. It was a great show to do because we had so much fun on it. There were a lot of times when we looked at a scene and then we embellished it with some pretty bonkers things.”

That cheeky sense of humour is also reflected in the look of the characters in My Lady Jane, which is produced by Parkes & MacDonald Image Nation and Amazon MGM Studios. Make-up and hair designer Pippa Woods says: “We had a lot of fun playing with the characters, particularly Mary, who ended up having around 28 hairstyles across the series, which were all quite bondage-inspired.

My Lady Jane debuts on Amazon’s Prime Video tomorrow

“There were things that were tied with shibari knots, and all of her accessories were metal and hard. Everything was very symmetrical and sharp.”

It was this tongue-in-cheek approach to history that first drew Bader to the project, which debuts on Prime Video tomorrow. The actor, who is delighted to be wearing the ruff sported by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, recalls: “The character was described as Elizabeth Bennet meets Blondie, and I just was sold. The show is so fun and it is so different. We’re taking one of history’s most tragic heroines, putting her centre stage and giving her a daring, fierce chance to have her own story. It’s alt-history, and it’s a bit rock ’n’ roll.”

The actor adds: “I went to see the famous painting of Lady Jane when I was in London, and it’s heartbreaking. As we were getting towards the end of production, we used that painting as a reminder of why we were telling the story.

“Every woman in history who was used as a pawn deserves to have a fun romcom written about her.”

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