With the arrival of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) in Season 4 of “The Crown,” Emmy-winning costume designer Amy Roberts had two powerhouse women to dress: Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, who altered the political landscape with her ruthless commitment to deregulation as The Iron Lady, and the storybook princess who humanized the royal family by winning the hearts of her country and the world with grace and compassion.
“Whatever you thought of her politics, what an extraordinary woman Thatcher was,” Roberts said. “We deliberately put her in that vivid blue amongst those posh boy Tories. She was still that same woman that we glimpse in flashbacks [at Somerville College, Oxford]. How remarkable she survived that, up to a point. And what was so brilliant about that part of Diana’s story was that arc as a young, charming, naive, sort of ingénue thrown into the lion’s den. And watching her unravel and the marriage unravel, and how her dressing dramatically changes for this fairly unfashionable girl.”
Thatcher learned to wear her clothes as armor, going from browns to blues to purples, as her shoulders got wider. Strategically, the directors and Roberts mapped out her psychological ups and downs when meeting with Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) at the palace to be conveyed through her wardrobe. “Who had the power? Who felt more vulnerable?” she said. “When Thatcher’s son is missing, we put her in a dress over a suit, and there’s a scene with [the recapture of] the Falklands, where she dresses very bombastic and militaristic in white, red, and blue blouse and blue suit. And we kept the Queen subdued in a dress, as the mother of the nation, against the warrior.”
Roberts selected a few publicly identifiable outfits for Thatcher (blue jacket and pleated skirt for her historic victory speech, gray suit with the white collar when ousted from Parliament), while the rest were more in the spirit of what she wore. “They are all based on truth, but you bring something of yourself to it,” Roberts added.
It was this same philosophy that Roberts brought to dressing Corrin as Princess Diana, with her Cinderella story brought to life, beginning with the casualness of her school girl floral or animal sweaters and yellow dungarees. “I’ve always loved the start with this little girl dressed as a tree creature [from ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’] in a [meet cute] scene with Prince Charles [Josh O’Connor]. But it became such a heart wrenching story “being manipulated and dressed by the palace, and having to find her own way a little bit with designers that realized her beauty and power.”
However, Diana’s unforgettable public persona necessitated applying to her costume design what showrunner Peter Morgan terms a combination of “forensic accuracy and flights of fancy.” This included the royal blue and white outfit for her wedding announcement, the colorful array of floral dresses and gowns for the Australian tour, and, of course, the dazzling wedding dress that everyone vividly remembers. “You can’t mess with that,” Roberts continued. “But it wasn’t my job to have the exact number of pearls that was sewn on the bodice. My job was to give you what was in your memory, which was that big, almost Walt Disney meringue of a dress with big sleeves, the big skirt, and that 25-foot train.”
Roberts met with David Emanuel, who, with his former wife, Elizabeth, designed the wedding dress. He consulted and selected the correct cream color among five choices she provided. “He just said get on with it and enjoy it,” added Roberts, who also got the original lace maker to recreate the lace around the edge of the train.
But it was the black velvet Christmas dress that Diana wore in the climactic Episode 10 (“War”), which signaled her own use of clothes as armor. “She was publicly on display, even when she’s dancing with Charles,” Roberts said. “I feel that she lost herself, really. There’s a scene where she’s lying on the bed in jeans and a sweater, and Philip [Tobias Menzies] comes in to warn her not to rock the boat. And you almost feel she’s not going to do that.
“But then she’s zipped herself into that black velvet, backless number, and she goes down those stairs, and she thinks she’s going to fight them. She’s going to put this armor on again. There’s an Edwardian portrait on the wall of a woman in a black dress. That was a kind of inspiration. We just wanted to make a bold statement of how far she’d come. It’s an amalgamation of John Singer Sargent in Edwardian times, and the glamour of Diana, and a bit of us, really.”