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The Essential Nature of Simple Costume in Locke

Locke (2013, costume design by Nigel Egerton) is a film unique in its restrictions – it takes place in real time, has only one character and only one setting. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is driving somewhere important, and over the course of the film’s 85 minute running time, his life gradually begins to crumble around him as he desperately tries to salvage it.

The controlled environment – the inside of his car – and the fact that the only character we actually see is Ivan himself means that interest in him is the only way of maintaining an audience’s attention with such limited visual stimulation. Ivan is the only character whose appearance is prescribed to us. All other characters are just voices on the car phone, giving the audience free reign to imagine each of these characters in any way. They will be completely different in the minds of one viewer to the next. Their personalities are pieced together from their conservations and, critically, through their relationship to Ivan. We are interested in them because of him and the role they play in his life and his problems.

Locke_Tom Hardy jumper blue_Image credit Shoebox Films

Clearly, this is not a film laden with costume changes and developments, taking place as it does in real time and a single location. We are faced, however, with almost an hour and a half of looking at the same thing – so the right choices are not just highlighted but critical. The costume design needs to paint a believable and sympathetic character that can hold an audience’s attention. The most effective way to achieve this is to make Ivan feel accessible, like an every-day guy that the audience can relate to. Ivan is our way into the narrative.

Ivan is dressed in a chunky navy round neck jumper in a cable knit. Under this he wears a cream shirt with a fine navy blue check. Navy is a staple colour, almost as frequently seen as black yet without the austere or fashionable associations. It is unobtrusive in the darkened car, blending with the dark interior and serving to shift focus to Tom Hardy’s face, where his performance serves as the only “action” within the film. In the passing lights of the cars, the dark navy sometimes looks almost maroon – and so reflects back the colour palette established by the setting of the motorway, with its headlights, taillights and street lamps. The dark colour serves as a blank canvas, transforming with the lighting and reinforcing the feeling of movement as the lamps skim over it. The shade works well to complement the cinematography, which is characterised by the contrast of moving satellites of red, blue and white headlamps on the dark canvas of night.

Locke_Tom Hardy watch side_Image credit Shoebox Films

His outfit can also be understood as the clothing of a practical man, something he could wear for work and not be afraid of getting his hands dirty in. Its informality shows his ease and confidence in his business environment; he is casual and in control, higher up than the workmen but not one of the distant business men in impractical suits. He is a man who is rooted in reality and his success is down to hard work. The lighter colour of the shirt collar over the neck of the jumper serves to highlight his face. As previously mentioned, his expressions are of utmost importance. Being the focus of such a claustrophobic film, it is imperative to focus attention on the character and the performance by framing the face and leading attention to the distress developing. With almost an hour and a half of just one thing to look at, it is vital that no feature of the background or the costume tempts the eye to drift or the attention to wander.

On one wrist Ivan Locke wears a large silver wristwatch. It embodies his status, wealth and success, and its glinting in the passing illuminations of the street lamps and car headlights serves as a reminder of all he stands to lose. He is clearly a man who has worked hard and done well. He is successful at work and can afford to spend money on nice things. He also wears a rubber charity bracelet, ‘Help for Heroes’, in primary red and blue and a small silver chain on his other wrist. His gold wedding ring glints on his finger in the changing light. The jewellery on his wrists adds detail to a very basic costume and gives more opportunities for insight into a character we initially know little about.

Locke_Tom Hardy bracelet 2_Image credit Shoebox Films

He wears his sleeves pushed up and his tie so loose it is lost below the neck of his jumper. He is, supposedly, off duty, despite all his responsibilities. As he drives he folds and unfolds his sleeves repeatedly, especially during his conversations with those that he cares about. He fiddles with the turn backs as if trying to neaten himself up or prepare himself for something. He is alone so there is clearly no actual need to be presentable in any way. Twisting his sleeves will give him no greater control of the situation. It is an anxious habit, a sign of his increasing frustration. He is trying to stay calm and to control the small things that he can – in this instance, his appearance. Distracting himself in this way from the enormity of his problems prevents him from breaking down. The link between the emotional and physical processes of suppression expresses itself in a nervous tick, a fidgety pre-occupation with something which is in fact deeply insignificant. Appearance becomes symbolic, the control of a physical exterior serving as an attempt to gain control of an interior struggle.

The costume worn in Locke is successful because it is so understated. In a film so confined in so many ways, it would be easy for any small discrepancies between costume, character, setting and cinematography to show up where they otherwise might not. It is simple but effective. In this case, understatement is not just successful but necessary. Costume serves to create a believable and sympathetic character and to give the audience small details about that character who we never witness in other situations or interactions. It also ensures that Tom Hardy’s central performance takes precedence, focusing our attention on him and creating sympathy and interest in his situation.

By Bonnie Radcliffe

Bonnie loves clothes and their power to transform and create characters. She has worked in a variety of roles in costume for film, television and theatre, and wants to share her love for the power of costume design through her writing. Visit her recently started travel blog at Holiday Girl.

© 2015 – 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.