How 'The Father' Production Designer Evoked Disorientation in Film About Memory Loss

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Courtesy of Lionsgate

To give a sense of the title character’s confusion as he deals with memory loss and dementia, the 'Father' production designer Peter Francis made minor changes to the set throughout filming. “We wanted the architecture of the flat to stay the same throughout the film,” he says, “but we wanted all these subtle differences that you don’t necessarily notice straightaway.”

To give audiences the point of view of Anthony Hopkins' Anthony, an 80-year-old suffering from memory loss in Sony Pictures Classics' The Father, the filmmakers banked on production design. A single set was built at West London Film Studios to serve as the character's London apartment, as well as additional interior settings, and was dressed and redressed throughout the film — confusing both Anthony and the viewer as to what was real as he moved from one room to another.

"It had to be Anthony's flat, [his daughter] Anne's flat, the doctor's surgery and the care home at the end. The one constant in all of it had to be Anthony's bedroom because that's where we end up at the end of the film," production designer Peter Francis explains. "We wanted the set to add to his confusion so that you're never quite sure where you are."

Noting that the film ultimately is about memory, he adds: "Everybody takes something different away from this film. I saw it as Anthony being in the same space all the way through the film. From my point of view, he's in the care home from day one, and what he is seeing, and everything you're seeing, are memories."

Anthony's flat had to look lived-in, suggesting that he had resided there for decades. "He's an intelligent man, he lives in a nice part of London, in Maida Vale, in a mansion block apartment. They're all quite large and lofty, tall ceilings and things," Francis notes. "For Anthony's home, we went for a yellow color palette, and the idea was that we wanted the architecture of the flat to stay the same throughout the film, but we wanted all these subtle differences that you don't necessarily notice straightaway. But in the back of your mind, you realize something's different and something has changed." Francis says he wanted to gradually move toward a sterile and cold-blue color palette for scenes where the set is dressed as the care home: "That very sort of cold, hard light blue, with hard lighting."

He describes the overall layout of the set as a sort of labyrinth, with a long corridor linking the rooms. "That corridor is key because it's featured quite a lot throughout the film — you see long shots down the corridor," he says, adding that the doors also play an important role: "The living room, for example, had three entrances and his study had two. The dining room had two, the kitchen had two. It gave [us] lots of options to sort of confuse people about the layout of the flat, as well. That was quite fun to play with, actually."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.