slow horses

Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb in Slow Horses

Apple TV+
slow horses

Costume designer Guy Speranza

Apple TV+
Fill 1
Fill 1
December 01, 2023
In The Mix

Behind the Scenes of Slow Horses

Costume designer Guy Speranza on making the spy drama's characters look as "British as they can be."

When Guy Speranza signed on to design the wardrobe for Slow Horses, he hadn't yet read the source material — Mick Harron's spy novels about a band of disgraced MI-5 agents banished to Slough House, a decrepit brick building in Central London. But he knew he wanted the costumes on this Apple TV+ series to have an authentic feel.

“My pitch was to make the characters, if they’re British, as British as they can be, whether it’s the brands or quirky English eccentricities,” says Speranza (Devs, Black Mirror). “To always go toward the British route as opposed to a more international kind of spy-thriller thing.” Once he’d ruled out glamorous-spy mode, Speranza assigned each character a sartorial personality. Take 60-something office administrator and recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves), whose prim cardigan sweaters and flowery Laura Ashley-like frocks suggest that she’s barely holding onto her sobriety. “She’s from another era,” Speranza says. “The need to control everything, so perfect and tidy and pressed, is because of her alcoholism.” Season three, which begins December 1, revolves around Standish.

For Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott-Thomas), the crisply commanding deputy-director of M1-5, Speranza didn’t want to see a woman who projects her absolute authority by way of expensively tailored trousers and jackets.

"I thought, 'Why does a woman have to wear a suit to be powerful? Why can't her uniform be skirts and a beautiful blouse?" says the London-based designer, who got his start in TV costume design in 2009 on Ten Minute Tales, a dialogue-free series on Sky1 that featured prestige British actors like Bill Nighy and Claire Foy.

His crowning achievement, though, has been outfitting Gary Oldman's Jackson Lamb, the gratuitously rude, slovenly and spectacularly flatulent head of operations at Slough House. Judging from the first two seasons, Lamb owns a heavy wool overcoat for winter, a grease-stained trench coat for summer and a variety of unremarkable shirts that barely contain his bulging paunch. He never changes his threadbare socks.

“I always refer back to the book, where he’s described as looking like he’s been dragged through a charity shop backwards,” says Speranza, whose fabric aging techniques include softening with sandpaper, burning holes with cigarettes and creating kebab stains with oil splatters.

“He’s not a clean person, by any stretch of theimagination. He lives in his suit. He sleeps in it, drinks in it, does everything in it. Lots of people have commentedthat they can smell him on the television, which is, I think, rather a compliment.”

Slow Horses is now streaming on Apple TV+.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #12, 2023, under the title "Oat Couture."

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