How Ridley Scott’s ‘The Last Duel’ Crafted a Medieval World Through Costumes, Music and Lighting

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams, costume designer Janty Yates and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski are part of the team Ridley Scott rallies to make a “Ridley Scott” film. Whether they come on early in the process or later on, his key collaborators know how to deliver his vision.

“The Last Duel” in theaters now, is set in the 14th century and stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver who face an epic last duel.

While natural was the approach for Wolski, Gregson-Williams aimed to use score to support the story at heart. And for Yates, despite having worked on medieval-set projects before, she had never done full armor, until now.

Here, the trio describes their crafts in delivering that one Last Duel for Scott.

Battle Armor

Janty Yates is no stranger to doing medieval costumes, especially for director Ridley Scott. She had previously tinkered in the period with “Robin Hood” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” This time around, Yates says it was a different ballgame. “This was all chainmail, helmets and full body armor so that was a challenge,” Yates says.

She had to originate total top to bottom armor – twice, once for the battle armor and the duel armor in different stages. “We had to do lots for the two actors, the stunts, clean versions and bloody muddy.”

There was no shortage of research material — a wealth of paintings in art galleries and museums helped Yates with her designs. Yates says, “We stole this wonderful set of armor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and it had this cuirass which we altered quite a bit of.”

Other inspirations and ideas came from effigies in churches throughout England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. “The breastplate circles that Adam had on his armor were from a knight in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire,” reveals Yates.

Scoring a Duel

In true Ridley Scott style, composer Harry Gregson-Williams came late to the party. Gregson-Williams came on board after the film had been shut down due to the pandemic. “Ridley called me and asked if I wanted to do half a film. I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind doing the whole bloody film.”

It had been almost six years since the two worked together on “The Martian.” On reading the script, Gregson-Williams started working on the score. Gregson-Williams says, “I started with Marguerite de Carrouges’ theme which we hear throughout the movie, and he really liked that. Once you have a director saying they love that texture or something, you know where to go with it.”

While the film has three distinct characters, he was able to start creating thematic material for each of the characters. “I didn’t make changes as such, it was more about amplifying each of those stories and shedding light on that.”

By the time audiences get to the third act, “This is where we really hear her theme and her material, which is often sung.”

Gregson-Williams and Scott had decided early on that the battle scenes would be covered with music, instead music was used in a supportive way. “So we weren’t distracting or detracting from the real, this the raw energy of what was going on,” Gregson-Williams says as displayed in the duel scene. Music plays a huge part in the build-up, the anxiety and tension, but as the knights come together, the music stops and sound effects take over with the armor clanging and swords meeting.

Keeping Lighting Simple

The approach to lighting was as naturalistic as possible that meant replicating lighting of the period through candlelight, fireplaces or whatever light was coming in through the window. Wolski says there were no real references and says paintings from the Middle Ages were flat. “It wasn’t until the Renaissance when you can see perspective and you start to see real lighting.”

When filming resumed again on a soundstage, Wolski says he placed big light sources outside windows to recreate the glare. “But, we did take creative license here and there, but the key was to keep it simple.”

A shot the cinematographer points to is one where Marguerite is watching as her dowry is being discussed. “IT’s a beautiful scene before she gets married and you can see half of her because she is just in the background. She is marginalized, but you can also see her eyes.”

When it came to the rape scene, Scott dropped the multiple cameras, choosing instead a single camera to get “right with her.”

To shoot the duel itself, he spent time watching the rehearsals. “The hardest part was the jousting because no one has shot that,” admits Wolski. But by spending time and using the cable cam to follow the actors, he was able to achieve the shots he needed.

When the actors fall, Wolski says, “That had to be handheld and really raw. It was photographing phenomenal choreography.”

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