1942. French Morocco.
For me, those two words take me directly to Casablanca; to Bogart and his white suit surveilling Rick’s and Bergman and her hat browsing through the market stalls. Any attempt to revive the classic in this modern era would not work for me. Call me a cinematic puritan.
However, Allied was a gratifying surprise. It is less of a revival and more of a homage to Casablanca and Old Hollywood romance with grand landscape shots of endless dunes, moonlit rooftops, moroccan cafes and the characteristically dusty streets lined with art deco buildings and palm trees.
Costume Designer Joanna Johnston (Saving Private Ryan, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) researched the era in depth as well as 1940s Hollywood movies and their actresses, on and off screen. Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn as well as Bette Davies’ heroine in Now, Voyager. (The ensemble worn by Cotillard on the cafe scene is an unashamed homage to Davies, including the statuesque hat)
The narrative follows a Canadian soldier parachuting in Casablanca to carry out the assassination of the German Ambassador with the help of a French Resistance fighter, their covers being a French marriage. As in every epic war romance of the era, their feelings become real (not after a heated scene in a gorgeous vintage vehicle in the middle of a sand storm). We see the transition from the contrasting Occupied Morocco, with its glamorous parties and dusty streets to the domestic, war torn life in Hampstead, London. We leave Casablanca with images of Marianne in a statuesque, Adrian style gown in mint green silk leaving her apartment with her accomplice in a spotless black tuxedo, gun strapped to her thigh. Or a midnight rooftop conversation between the lovers with Cotillard wearing a floor length pink slip under a printed kimono, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. One of my favourite ensembles is the one worn for target practice, where our heroine shows off her skills sporting a pair of cargo pants, green silk shirt, sunnies and mustard suede gloves.
Once the couple in settled in London, we see Marianne trade silk for wool, knits and tweeds in shape of two piece suits, checked skirts and earthy coloured coats. Max spends most of his time in uniform, navy blue for the Royal Canadian Air Force, surrounded by British military ranging from Navy, Air Force, Army and civilians. Johnston requested help from Andrew Fletcher, an expert on military attire who assisted her on accuracy for all the uniforms mentioned before as well as French Vichy, German and American.
Johnston reveals all costumes for the two main characters were made made to order, which gives that quality and special lustre to the garments, adding to the illusion and gloss which the film achieves particularly well. It does not aim to be realistic or particularly accurate; there is no grit, no messiness, not a hair out of place. Every scene, landscape, object and garment seems covered with a coat of shine, refinement, smoothness, as if all has been filed and polished to perfection. In any other movie this artificiality would prevent us from relating to the character´s emotional ordeal but in this case we accept it as part of the movie`s homage to Hollywood and its golden era.
The glamour highlights the impossible romance, the betrayal and mystery; it even makes giving birth on a hospital courtyard in the middle of an air raid seem not only doable, but cinematic.
P.D If you live in London and would like a truly cinematic experience, book a ticket at Everyman Hampstead. With its velvet seats and secluded location, it will transport you 40s Hampstead in a heartbeat.