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I love characters who are not what they seem. In Locke (2013) Tom Hardy delivers a virtuoso turn as a man whose identity crumbles as he drives down the M6 from Birmingham to London, leaving behind the job and family that have defined him for years, to be present at the birth of his child by a woman he hardly knows. Apparently a responsible parent, husband and boss, on his fateful journey construction engineer Ivan Locke is assailed by his demons, revealing a deeply divided personality. Steven Knight’s beautifully executed film has a noir look and feel, exposing cracks in the façade of masculinity. Cracks are something Locke fears: if the concrete mix for his mega-construction isn’t just right, the building will tumble …

Concrete is the subtext for Locke, and Hardy’s performance provides the drama. In this one-man show that takes place almost entirely in the confines of a car, costume does not immediately stand out as a distinctive feature. But together with the effects created by the Red Epic digital cameras, which enmesh our hero in a shimmering, chimerical landscape, the costume design by Nigel Egerton and make-up design by Audrey Doyle (make-up artist for Hardy’s upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road) unpick the threads that hold together this solid family man.

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Facial hair

Locke has a bushy, untrimmed beard. OK, facial hair isn’t strictly costume. Nor is it exactly a prosthetic or make-up. It is, though, an essential element in portraying character. Hardy’s facial hair disguises his handsome, film-star looks and gives Locke the appearance of ordinariness, maturity and reliability. Beards are also a form of masquerade, concealing identity. As Locke and other people heard in the film remark, his behaviour in fleeing to London is uncharacteristic. It’s almost as though he’s on the run.

Boots

At the start of the film there’s a brief scene in which a man in builder’s gear (who turns out to be Locke) walks away from the construction site to get into his BMW. He’s wearing a standard helmet, yellow safety jacket and boots encrusted with dirt. He looks like any builder making his way home after a day’s graft. He removes his boots before getting into the car, and when we next see Locke inside the vehicle the helmet and safety jacket have also gone. It’s a tiny gesture, but the removal of the boots is significant. Later, in a telephone exchange with his angry wife (Ruth Wilson), she reminds him of the years she’s spent cleaning the concrete residue from his boots ingrained in their kitchen floor. Apparently he’s not as sensitive about her environment as he is about his car. 

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Wristwear and jewellery

Locke wears two bracelets, emblems of his integrity. They both signify charities: Help for Heroes (for which Locke displays a car sticker) and The Prince’s Trust, which Hardy also supports. Together with his wedding ring they indicate the caring, concerned persona he projects to the world. This persona is stripped away as his anger and violence surface in his imaginary conversations with his dead father. Locke is both damaged and driven to inflict damage – not a good omen for his flagship construction project. The bracelets seem to be there to ward off danger and hurt, to deflect victimisation on to others. At the same time, they are a troubling intimation of his destructive inclinations.

The checked shirt

Locke’s checked shirt is a brilliant touch. He wears it under a naval sweater that Hardy claims to have chosen himself. It’s open-necked and the sleeves are rolled up. The actor draws attention to the rolled up sleeves by using a repetitive gesture, pushing them up his arms as he drives. The grid pattern on the shirt is reminiscent of graph paper, suggesting structure, planning and equilibrium. The rolled-up sleeves indicate Locke’s readiness to get to work, solve problems, put the world to rights. Yet the repeated gesture of pushing up his sleeves is almost compulsive, a desperate, anxious response to the chaos his actions have unleashed. The open collar evokes vulnerability and the crumpled fabric of the shirt points to the collapse of structure and stability.

The naval sweater

Locke wears a dark-brown chunky sweater over his shirt. As with the shirt, the straight lines of its cable-knit pattern are rumpled and broken. For Hardy, the sweater contributed to the sense that Locke was trying to hold things together in a difficult situation. Its earthy colour and bulky texture signify Locke’s connection to solid ground; however, it’s difficult to avoid the connection between the sweater and Locke’s feckless dead father, whom he hates with a vengeance but with whom he also identifies. Ranting and railing against his father, he threatens to dig him up and inflict terrible violence on him. It becomes clear during this tirade that Locke has unearthed his father within himself. The sweater is like a pile of soil under which he’s buried his true self.

Costume in Locke is minimal, but together with performance it plays a crucial role in a brilliant character study that creates compelling drama from the breakdown of character itself.

© Pam Cook

Further information on ‘Locke’

Lionsgate production notes

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