‘King’s Speech’ art direction hits the wall

Posted by · 8:29 am · February 23rd, 2011

By now you’ll have heard that the most celebrated set in “The King’s Speech,” that of Lionel Logue’s shabbily spartan office, was also used in a video by British gay porn producers UK Naked Men — which I’ve since discovered is called “Snookered,” and is readily available online. (Click at your own risk — decidedly NSFW/C.)

As Kris pointed out yesterday, the folks steering “The King’s Speech” will be grateful this embarrassing news nugget wasn’t unearthed a few weeks ago, as opposed on the last day of Oscar voting. Still, I imagine a number of Academy figures are now crossing fingers in the hope that the film doesn’t emerge victorious in what appears to be a tight three-way race for Best Art Direction.

The news spread rapidly across the internet yesterday, leaving ripples of laughter in its wake — but aside from its amusement value, the situation does raise interesting questions about how people define award-worthiness in this particular craft field, and how aware they even are of what went into the work they’re voting for.

Logue’s office in the film, with its imposing leaded-pane windows and that striking feature wall of peeling, distressed wallpaper, was cited by many of you as a key factor when you cast your votes in our Oscar Guide for the Art Direction category two weeks ago. It is certainly the film’s most vivid and effective interior. But while many are under the impression that the space is a set built for the film, it’s not.

Rather, it’s the back portion of the ground floor of 33 Portland Place, a historical house in central London (just a few blocks north of retail mecca Oxford Street) used frequently for swanky society events, industry parties and the occasional film shoot. “Snookered” isn’t the only film to share its décor with “The King’s Speech”: I didn’t see it, but UK critic Tim Robey informs me that “Spring,” a gay-themed short film shown at the Berlinale last week also made use of the space.

Nothing to get up in arms about there. Needless to say, production designers use existing buildings all the time; it’s how they re-dress and reconfigure them that counts. The question therefore lies in how much “The King’s Speech” production designer Eve Stewart did to reinvent the space for the purposes of the film. And here’s where we run into some conflicting information.

Given the similarity of the room’s treatment and finishes in “The King’s Speech” and “Snookered,” many have assumed that the latter simply used the space after the posher film was done with it. This is not the case. I contacted UK Naked Men this morning and was informed that their film was shot in August 2008, comfortably preceding the “King’s Speech” shoot. (UKNM employee James also kindly informed me that the space has been used for Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” video, and used to be rented out for swingers’ parties. The more you know, eh?)

Furthermore, I contacted the management for 33 Portland Place, where the helpful Lizzy explained to me which spaces of the house were used for different sections of the film — having visited last October, I was already aware that grander floors of the same building doubled as the royals’ residence. She also confirmed that the “King’s Speech” crew used the set in the condition they found it, distressed wall and all. “The settee seen in Logue’s office is ours too,” she added. (“Settee” equals “sofa,” American readers.)

So far, so good. But this clashes curiously with this extract from Nathaniel Rogers’s recent interview with Eve Stewart, in which she claims the famous wall was her creation:

The director and I were looking around buildings and we saw a little bit of an incredibly distressed wall, which is what it was. There were layers and layers of decorations, hundreds of years in London from the 1700s and such. We loved it so much that I remembered it and we replicated it in there with lots of different treatments and old paint. It was layers of lacquers and wax and bits of paper. It was meant to represent all that time had come before but they’re stuck in this garret creating something.

The wall — we kept going. There was so little light in there while we were working; there’s no electricity in half of these old buildings. We were doing it in very dim lights and kept going and going and there was a point where I thought “Oh my god. what have I done??? (laughter) and then they turn the lights on and it was beautiful but I was a bit scared of being quite so daring.

Color me a little confused. When Stewart says “we replicated it in there,” does “there” refer to a studio or the original site? And if the latter, how does this square with evidence of the pre-existing space? The 33 Portland Place website also features photos of the room in a recognizable condition, as well as other memorable interior locations from the film that look largely untouched.

There’s nothing wrong with this from a production point of view, particularly given the film’s indie status. Stewart, Tom Hooper and their scouts are to be commended on finding such a versatile and cost-effective location. But when it comes to the Oscar, how can voters wowed by the on-screen interiors be certain they’re voting for the film’s own craft and not just a lucky find? (It’s interesting that the BAFTA for Best Production Design — on which only branch members, many of whom are probably familiar with the location, vote — went to “Inception,” despite the “Speech” sweep.)

It wouldn’t be the first time a production designer got credit from the Academy for pre-existing work: in 1997, Jan Roelfs received a nomination for “Gattaca,” which, gorgeous as it is, was filmed in large part at the sleekly futuristic-looking Marin County Civic Center. In 2006, meanwhile, K.K. Barrett was BAFTA-nominated (perhaps tellingly, by the general membership, not just the art directors) for “Marie Antoinette,” which was famously shot on location in Versailles. The Academy’s art directors’ branch, however, froze Barrett out.

The line is a fine one. It’ll be interesting to see if Eve Stewart makes it to the Oscar podium on Sunday, and if so, if any further fallout awaits.

[Photo: UKNakedMen]

→ 45 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

45 responses so far

  • 1 2-23-2011 at 8:43 am

    Murtada said...

    now I’m cheering TKS to win this award all the way, it would be so much fun that a gay porn movie kinda won an oscar

  • 2 2-23-2011 at 8:45 am

    americanrequeim said...

    good god. i was so rooting for it to win best art direction before now…does that mean im gay?

    ahhhhh im so confused! why tom hooper why!!!!!

  • 3 2-23-2011 at 8:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    i was so rooting for it to win best art direction before now…does that mean im gay?

    No, just your taste in wallpaper.

  • 4 2-23-2011 at 8:51 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    But seriously, the gay porn connection is an amusing side issue. What’s interesting here is the question of what was and wasn’t created for the film.

  • 5 2-23-2011 at 8:52 am

    Vn said...

    This a great reporting! U even contacted with UKNM! I’m sure Eve Stewart never thought this would happen.

    I’m totally rooting for Alice after this.

  • 6 2-23-2011 at 9:00 am

    carrie said...

    wait?! on twitter,Guy L wrote even the sofa is from 33 Portland Place !!! so did they really need Eva Stewart?

  • 7 2-23-2011 at 9:02 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I’m loving this story so much. Excellent work, Guy.

    I was very impressed with the Logue’s office “set”, but I was always rooting for “True Grit” for Art Direction. Now more than ever.

  • 8 2-23-2011 at 9:04 am

    Someone said...

    Who knows? Maybe Stewart simply copied this wall in the studio (the word “there”) and she told the truth. And besides from that – aren’t awards for best art direction given for PREPARING art direction for the film? She found this location and she decided that it will be good enough for the movie. It was her decision, her visual taste that was responsible for the fact that we see this room in THE KING’S SPEECH. So I think that we might assume that she is still responsible for the art direction of this movie. And besides from that – we don’t know why Academy members decided to vote for her – maybe this room wasn’t the main reason.

  • 9 2-23-2011 at 9:06 am

    red_wine said...

    Barry Lyndon was filmed in and around existing palaces and won Art Direction.

    Art Direction is obviously finding the correct locations that suit your story and dressing them up.

    This more than anything gives us the idea that just how cost effective Art Direction can be or making a reasonably lavish period film can be. Three other art direction nominees cost upwards of 150 million dollar each. Trye Grit cost 38 million. The King’s Speech cost 12.8 million. It would be ironic if it managed to win Art Direction. I mean seriously we are talking locations so cheap porn movies can afford it too.

    It must give hope to other production designers that they can win Oscars for small to medium budget indies too.

    The apartment is undeniably gorgeous and the most striking space from TKS no doubt. But there are other glories to behold in the film too. It still squarely gets my should win vote.

  • 10 2-23-2011 at 9:11 am

    David said...

    All this is irrelevant. The production design in the film is excellent, regardless of how that space was used otherwise. What if we found out that some of the clubs from The Social Network were used in porn, or some of the exteriors from True Grit? Who cares?

  • 11 2-23-2011 at 9:17 am

    Maxim said...

    “in what appears to be a tight three-way”

    Why Mr. Lodge, I am not that kind of a movie.

  • 12 2-23-2011 at 9:17 am

    Maxim said...

    “or some of the exteriors from True Grit?”

    Them boys, making you hard on again?

  • 13 2-23-2011 at 9:27 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nobody is suggesting that Stewart — a fine designer, by any measure — isn’t responsible for the art direction of the film. I just think the borders between what is found, created and/or transformed make for an interesting discussion.

    Much the same tension exists in costume design between found vintage items and wardrobes specifically created for a shoot.

  • 14 2-23-2011 at 9:39 am

    rec_wine said...

    Thisis such a shocking news. When you think about the time and effort, Nolan, Burton and their times spent to design their set, and the most undeserving one, who did not actually do anything, is going to win just because of a goddamn sweep. Disgusting.

  • 15 2-23-2011 at 9:47 am

    Someone said...

    Maybe for you, Guy, Stewart is still responsible for art direction of THE KING’S SPEECH but for Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams in Awardsdaily.com and for lots of other people she is not. IMO it’s unfair for her and I’m really shocked that people can judge her when she can’t respond.

  • 16 2-23-2011 at 9:50 am

    reck_wine said...

    How can she be responsible when the main location used in the film is the exact same that was used in the porn film? She didn’t not change a thing, same wallpapers, same set, same furnitures. And if you check the Amy Winehouse video (Rehab) you can see it was uses as well at the time they shoot this video music and it looks exactly the same. This is a very well known location in the UK, and even just finding it did not require any special ability. But what is utterly shocking is that she is blatantly lying and wants to take credit for it. That’s just pure and simple dishonesty.

  • 17 2-23-2011 at 10:00 am

    Mike B said...

    Hey everyone! There’s more to The King’s Speech Art Direction other than Lionel’s Office…

    The Palace…
    Bertie’s House…
    Lionel’s House…

    That being said, she shouldn’t have lied about the wallpaper.

  • 18 2-23-2011 at 10:08 am

    Cordy said...

    I feel like the only people who should really care about this are Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Especially that bit of info about the couch…

  • 19 2-23-2011 at 10:08 am

    reck_wine said...

    The set of the Royal residence was in the same building (just re-red the article) and all the others locations are real ones which weren’t modified (Don Valley Stadium,
    Ely Cathedral, Ely, Knebworth House, Old Royal Naval College,Windsor and Eton Central Station.. ect check the full list on imdb). Well unless she starts talking about how she recreated the Naval College and thought “God, What have I done?”. Delusion of grandeur much, Mrs Stewart?

  • 20 2-23-2011 at 10:18 am

    Andrej said...

    Probably the Academy was somewhat aware that the key set from TKS wasn’t changed much, if it was so known and had such a prior history of filmmaking and celebrity parties.

    That said… I’m thinking they’ll go for Inception now. Yeah, yeah, this news came far too late to change things that much, but I’ve always been doubtful that this movie can support 12 nods on its own that easily. I’m thinking it’ll range between the 4 or 5.

  • 21 2-23-2011 at 10:38 am

    Rex Okpodu said...

    The irony of this is Brokeback Mountain did not win best picture arguably due to the ‘Gay thing’- it was too much for AMPAS to take?
    TKS (shot after a gay porn film has had a go (no pun intended) wins best picture on sunday…..That will teach them a lesson in respectability

  • 22 2-23-2011 at 10:39 am

    Maxim said...

    Brokeback didn’t lose because it was a gay film, it lost because it was up agaisnt better movies.

  • 23 2-23-2011 at 10:42 am

    Cordy said...

    Obviously this doesn’t change the race at all, but I do think Inception may be in the lead anyways. However, Guy makes a good point about the BAFTA win if this location is well known

  • 24 2-23-2011 at 10:47 am

    Rex Okpodu said...

    @ Maxim said

    Yeah right, tell that one again…and of the four other nominees, Crash was the best?
    Give me a f…g break!

  • 25 2-23-2011 at 12:28 pm

    Graysmith said...

    It’s understandable that a film of this scope but small budget ($15m for a period drama is peanuts!) would have to use existing locations and wouldn’t have much money to dress them up.. But I am a bit disappointed to hear that the whole thing was a found location, right down to the memorable wallpaper. It’s too bad she’d lie (?) about it, but there’s so much more to Art Direction than that.

  • 26 2-23-2011 at 1:33 pm

    maurier said...

    I think it’s good that, thanks to this “controversy”, more people will pay closer attention to the production design, and costume design for that matter. For example, the costumes used in most movies set during the WWII are borrowed from specialized warehouses in London or Prague.

  • 27 2-23-2011 at 2:31 pm

    Patryk said...

    This should provide the makings of some seriously funny skits for James Franco.

  • 28 2-23-2011 at 2:46 pm

    Maxim said...


    Crash wasn’t the best but it was BETTER. That’s right. I like Crash.

  • 29 2-23-2011 at 3:25 pm

    Sam C. said...

    Now I’m so torn. Do I root for messy, fake art direction in Alice or lucky location scouting for TKS?

    Guess I’ll have to stick with Inception.

  • 30 2-23-2011 at 5:19 pm

    PS said...

    I don’t really care if they used an existing location even one previously used for porn flicks. I do, however, have an issue with the production designer claiming to have created something she didn’t. But to be honest, even if the design of the walls were her creation, I still don’t think she deserves the Oscar because there really isn’t anything remarkable about the production design in TKS. The only reason why it got nominated and has a high chance of winning is because TKS is Oscar bait. Had TKS been an average drama movie, it would not have been nominated in any of the technical categories like score, costume, art direction, etc.

    I want to see the creative and well-thought production design in Harry Potter or Inception win at the Oscars. It would probably be Inception this year, so I hope Craig wins for Potter next year.

  • 31 2-23-2011 at 8:50 pm

    Glenn said...

    reck_wine, I’m sure the makers of “The King’s Speech” could’ve won even better if they also had a $200mil budget instead of the $13mil that they did have.

  • 32 2-23-2011 at 9:14 pm

    Ky said...

    @Maxim: Crash didn`t even deserve to be nominated. BBM lost because of the gay subject matter.

  • 33 2-23-2011 at 9:42 pm

    Marvin said...

    Crash is crap.

  • 34 2-24-2011 at 3:54 am

    RichardA said...

    I’m sad about this. I loved the “wall” in TKS.

  • 35 2-24-2011 at 4:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    You can still love the wall.

  • 36 2-24-2011 at 4:37 am

    GlenH said...

    @RichardA: If you truly love The Wall than the hows,whys and whens shouldn’t matter. It’s deliciously distressed character remains present, it’s shabby honour is still almost intact. What matters is not how it came into the world but rather that it is in the world! Go forth, for The Wall!

  • 37 2-24-2011 at 4:38 am

    GlenH said...

    (And that’s why I should refresh before posting.)

  • 38 2-24-2011 at 6:32 am

    RichardA said...

    I still love the wall!
    The way it was shot is still amazing. It’s like a Klimt painting the way it shimmers.
    Now that I think about it–I don’t think this revelation should take anything away from TKS’s art direction.

  • 39 2-24-2011 at 2:30 pm

    SJG said...

    Okay, it’s driving me crazy. Can someone explain what the “/C” stands for in “NSFW/C”?

  • 40 2-24-2011 at 3:28 pm

    Guy Lodge said...


  • 41 4-28-2011 at 4:20 am

    Rachel said...

    The walls were originally painted in 2003 for a film called Dead Fish which was designed by Jean Vincent Puzos. I work in events and have looked at that space many times since then, its also featured in huge amount of editorial…every fashion photographer in London must know about it!

  • 42 6-29-2012 at 8:40 am

    Alice said...

    Eve Stewart is brilliant at what she does, and is one of the most honest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. To anyone who thinks she ‘lied’, you are obviously insane. That is all.