Production designer Arthur Max’s long-time partnership with director Ridley Scott brought him to 2021 where Max’s brilliant designs appeared in two major, awards-friendly fall releases: House of Gucci and The Last Duel. Oddly enough, it’s typically Gucci that draws attention, but Max’s efforts on the medieval epic The Last Duel holds a stronger place in Max’s heart.
“For me, it was a more difficult project and more rewarding in many ways than Gucci was,” Max explained. “It was a bit more accessible because 14th century France is bit more difficult to recreate.”
The Last Duel tells the true story of a pivotal rape and subsequent trial by combat as told from three perspectives: Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), and Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer). To begin, Max dove into the film’s source novel, The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager. Following that, he and his production team set off to France to scout some of the real-life locations, starting in Normandy where the historic events took place.
Unfortunately, modern day Normandy’s landscape drastically differed from the story’s medieval setting. That sent Max and team on a cross-county scouring of locations used to film various scenes in the film. Historic cathedrals, estates, and even a monastery, which was used in the film’s climactic court sequence. The production even moved to Ireland during the COVID outbreak to take advantage of more period-specific landscapes.
However, not every location could be completely recreated. In several scenes, the classic cathedral Notre Dame appears in a late construction phase. How did Max and team recreate those moments? It required an old-fashioned source of inspiration.
“It’s called imagination. You make some assumptions. We felt that most of it at that time would have been completed except perhaps they were finishing one of the towers and mounting the bells. So, if you look carefully, you’ll see a workman scaffolding at the bottom where they were about to rig the bell and raise it up into the tower to complete the second. That’s totally imagination. We couldn’t find any reference, so you just sometimes make some creative assumptions.”
Creative assumptions that paid off beautifully in Scott’s brilliant medieval masterpiece.
The Last Duel is now available on home video.