Jacqueline Durran interview: ‘Small Axe’ costume designer

For the anthology series “Small Axe,” Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen sought to rectify the historical erasure of the Black experience on British television.

“We’re missing two generations or so of Black artists in the UK because that industry was not welcoming to Black people,” McQueen said in an interview with Indiewire last year. “There’s a hole in our narrative. These stories shaped the history of the UK. So it’s no small feat in what the West Indian population has done in the UK and the Black population has done in the UK.”

The five individual films that combine to make “Small Axe,” all of which debuted on Amazon last fall, focus on the lives of West Indian immigrants living in London from the 1960s through the 1980s. To create the standalone movies, McQueen enlisted a group of highly decorated below-the-line collaborators, including Oscar winners like editor Chris Dickens (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and costume designer Jacqueline Durran (“Anna Karenina,” “Little Women”).

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“It’s not something we’ve really tackled on British television,” Durran tells Gold Derby during the Meet the Experts: Costume Designers panel. “It was a very new thing to be doing. It was very personal to Steve. It very much felt that you were entrusted with something significant and important and something that you needed to really treat with a great deal of care. It was peoples’ personal stories, not something in the public domain and not something that has been told before. I really felt the weight and responsibility to portray it as accurately as possible. That was the brief: do justice to this world which we haven’t really looked into on television before in the UK.”

Durran handled costuming for two of the five episodes: “Alex Wheatle,” a fact-based story about the Black British novelist, and “Lovers Rock,” a standout installment focused on a house party. (McQueen was inspired by his aunt in telling that story.) For that latter installment, Durran says she had scant time to prep and actually purchased most of the enviable clothes, save for the costumes worn by the three leads.

“What I think is really fantastic about ‘Lovers Rock’ is that there was not a very great distinction between the crowd and the actors.” she says. “That’s one of the most amazing things: Steve’s managed to get this environment which is just a really holistic thing. Because there is no differentiation between them really. The crowd is absolutely amazing. We spent the same time dressing the crowd as we did the principles apart from the three who needed clothes making.”

Watch the full interview with Durran above.

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UPLOADED May 18, 2021 4:51 pm