Legendary production designer Ken Adam discusses designing the Marquess of Queensbury’s reception room for THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, after the budget had run out:
“Well, it was hard because a) the money had run out and b) I didn’t have time to do research about what Queensbury’s castle in Scotland looked like. So what I decided to do was a complete stylisation using all the classical elements of the St. James’s Theatre and the Café Royal. The only new design element was a very tall, slender French window with a circular top at the end of the set. Then I used Georgian doors from the St James’s and I painted the whole floor like Siena marble. I had a very good painter and it was beautifully done. Then I had the idea of treating the set in two colours only — terracotta for the walls, and everything else in black — because it was after the funeral. I talked the director, Ken Hughes, into dressing all tyhe actors in black. And the whole set was built in a forced perspective. It was the first time that I got recognition for my work from the critics and others: Luchino Visconti was President of the Moscow Film Festival in 1961 and he gave me first prize for best design.”
a) Adam often seems to have done his best work in desperate circumstances. The strongest, strangest set in DR. NO, the first of the many Bond films he designed, is the bare room with the round skylight — Dr. No’s ante-room. It was built for £450 as an afterthought, and it supplies the just note of stylisation that later Bond films built from.
b) Ken Hughes is an underrated filmmaker and I must do more about him. I’m hoping the forthcoming BBC series on British B-movies will show some of his cheapies. I find his bloated extravaganzas like CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and CROMWELL rather endearing, but I have a feeling his best work might lie in his low-budget crime thriller output. I haven’t even managed to see the bigger-budget extensions of that, JOE MACBETH and THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE.
c) My friend Lawrie once loaned a flat to Hughes and got complaints from the landlady about some kind of unspeakable parties… Lawrie called Hughes “the dirtiest man i ever met.” All simply too, too intriguing!
d) The quote up top comes from Ken Adam The Art of Production Design by the esteemed Professor Sir Christopher Frayling. I know that’s the correct way to give him his titles, but I have a sneaking preference for “Sir Christopher Professor Frayling” and I have a feeling that if I ever meet the poor man that’s what I’ll call him, whether I intend to our not.