Sony Pictures Television’s eight-part period drama “The Halcyon,” which is world premiering at Mipcom on Sunday, may be set in a glamorous London hotel at the start of World War II, but the look of the show was partly inspired by Aaron Sorkin’s political drama “The West Wing,” according to producer Chris Croucher, who previously worked on “Downton Abbey.”
“We talked a lot about ‘The West Wing’ when we were designing the set because everything is connected, so you can do this great walk-and-talk thing from the foyer to the bar to back-of-house areas,” Croucher says.
Two stages of composite sets were created for the show in West London, including the large hotel lobby and bar interiors, bedrooms and back-of-house areas such as kitchens. Shots on set had to be seamlessly blended with those of the hotel’s exterior and restaurant, which were both shot on location. So, for example, the gold coloring of the pillars in the foyer have to match those at the National Liberal Club in London, which was the location for the hotel restaurant scenes.
Croucher adds: “You want all the different worlds to feel like it is one big grand hotel.”
Having interconnecting rooms within the set helped the actors with their performances, production designer Matt Gant says, as it created a more realistic performance space, and the actors said they were less conscious they were on a set.
The set took 12 weeks to build, and at one point more than 100 people were working on the construction, not counting those in the art department. As the hope is to make this a returning series, the majority of props were bought or made for the show rather than rented.
One of Gant’s first tasks was to research the design of grand London hotels of the 1920s and ’30s, when many of them embraced Art Deco. An invaluable resource was the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which contains detailed photographs of the refurbishment of several London hotels in the 1930s.
One challenge was that the Art Deco furniture, ornaments and lighting fixtures that can be bought at auction, on Ebay or rented from prop houses were often too worn-out and shabby to be suited for a glamorous hotel, so Gant opted to reproduce many of the items afresh.
Everything had to fit within a strict color palette. “What I wanted was a very elegant and clean public face to the hotel,” he says. “I worked very closely with the costume designer, Anna Robbins. We chose a particular palette of greens, silvers and golds, and tried to keep the front of house and other public areas of the hotel quite cool in color temperature.
“Green is also quite an ambiguous color. In certain scenes it can look very fresh and lively. In other scenes it has the ability to look crazy and almost dangerous.”
He adds: “As soon as you go back of house, we wanted there to be quite a contrast. In the staff areas and the working parts of the hotel, the idea was that this had been updated less recently. You find when you go back of house there’s a more autumnal palette. So you have got a bright-red lino floor in the corridors and a brown and red William Morris wallpaper in the administrative office. You have got walnut paneling in the manager’s office. It kind of feels like a gentleman’s club – it gives it a warmer look.”
He adds: “I wanted it to feel like the engine room — the beating heart. The warmth of all these autumnal colors gives you the juxtaposition when you walk to back of house.”
An important feature of the set is the imposing staircase that “gives a sweeping entrance to the lobby,” Gant says. It was “one of the most geometrically complex designs we threw at” the set builders, as the steps are elliptical. The staircase provides a focal point for the lobby.