“A Very British Scandal” production designer Christina Moore spent time driving through the Scottish Highlands while scouting locations for the Amazon Prime limited series. Set in 1963, the historical drama chronicles the tumultuous marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, played by Claire Foy and Paul Bettany.
The Duke, who had inherited the dilapidated Inveraray Castle in Scotland, married a series of women in the hope of using their money to maintain the castle. His third marriage was to socialite and serial adulteress Margaret Whigham. As rumors of adultery, violence and alcoholism come into play, his divorce becomes a hot topic of gossip.
Moore found numerous locations in Scotland and London to help immerse audiences in the history of history.
As Moore traveled through Scotland, he thought it unlikely that the film crew would have access to the royal Duke’s Inveraray Castle on the west coast. But she started with that as her reference point.
“We looked at many other castles in similar landscape settings and in the same area of Scotland between the east and west coasts in the highlands.
“But the exterior of Inveraray was so specific and unbelievably great. It had this amazing setting on Loch Fyne that we couldn’t find anywhere else. Fortunately, the current Duke and Duchess were very willing to accept our project and welcomed filming at the estate. While the lockdown was challenging in some ways, in terms of finding locations, it got really good for us because it meant that a lot of places that would normally have a lot of tourism had been closed for a year. They were very welcoming to the film crew and there were no visitors to bother.
“Our dilemma was how to tell the story by finding other places to add to it and doing some work on the actual castle to give it that story. We did it in two ways. We used few visual effects, mainly with the initial landscaping and just to add greenery.”
For the exteriors, Moore refocused on the West Coast landscape near the castle grounds because it had the right landscape.
“We went to Edinburgh for the exteriors of the courtrooms, which we felt were important. We wanted to get as much of Scotland as possible during our two weeks of shooting there.
“Again, due to COVID, Edinburgh was on lockdown. So, we were able to get there for the exteriors and that helped add to the story.”
London and interiors
The crew moved to London to shoot interiors such as Margaret’s London home, the courtroom scenes, and other interiors. Venues such as the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane Hotel stood in for London’s Dorchester Hotel and other bars to capture the “seedy, bohemian look of the character”.
Moore’s biggest challenge was finding a period-looking courtroom, one that had the right period feel and one that they could configure by adding their furniture.
“[With the castle interiors], we took a romantic approach because the actual castle was a grand Georgian castle with beautiful interiors. We decided to opt for something with a medieval looking interior. The main interior we used was actually an old boarding school (in Buckinghamshire), which had been empty for quite some time. It had a lobby, and we created the library and the main staircase. We had to decorate a lot because it was completely empty, but it had that dilapidated feel.
“By contrast, the London house was well documented. The Duchess’s interiors were well known because she was a social entertainer and hostess and there were many photographs of her home in Mayfair. It was very elegant and parts of it had been decorated by her parents in the 1930s, including the famous mirrored bathroom. Some of that she had done herself in the ’40s and ’50s.
“We used earth colors in Scotland, and nature was important, so we added warm brown colours. London had elegance, but that steely feeling of being a cold place, so it was all about blues and silvers.
“The courtroom was the last place we found. We ended up at Ealing Town Hall. We had this very small room because the local elections were going on and there was a mass vaccination, but we were able to go in and decorate the set. It ended up working out well for our story.”