Consolata Boyle is an Irish costume designer based in Dublin. She is a frequent collaborator of English director Stephen Frears and has been nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for her work on two of his films: The Queen (2006) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016).
A graduate of University College Dublin in Archaeology and History, where she was involved in the University society Dramsoc, she trained in costume design at the Abbey Theatre and began her career in the early 1980s. She also did a postgraduate diploma in textiles at West Surrey College of Art & Design (now University for the Creative Arts).
Her many credits include Anne Devlin (1984), December Bride (1991), Into the West (1992), Widows' Peak (1994), Angela's Ashes (1999), Nora (2000), When Brendan Met Trudy (2001), The Iron Lady (2011), Miss Julie (2014) and Testament of Youth (2014). Her collaboration with Stephen Frears began with The Snapper in 1993 and continued with films including Mary Reilly (1996), The Queen (2006), Cheri (2009), Tamara Drewe (2010), Philomena (2013) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). Most recently, she designed the costumes for Frears' forthcoming 2017 film Victoria and Abdul, in which Dame Judi Dench will reprise her role as Queen Victoria alongside Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim.
As well as her two Oscar nominations, Boyle has been nominated for several other awards throughout her career as a costume designer and amongst those that she has won are an Emmy Award for the television film The Lion in Winter (2003), a Costume Designers Guild Award for The Queen (2006) and four Irish Film and Television Awards for The Queen (2006), Chéri (2009), The Iron Lady (2011) and Philomena (2013). Had she won the Oscar for which she had been nominated at the 89th Academy Awards (2017), she would have become the fifth Irishwoman to win a competitive Oscar after art director Josie MacAvin, make-up artist Michèle Burke, producer Corinne Marrinan and actress Brenda Fricker. She is married to Donald Taylor Black and they have one child. She lost to American designer Colleen Atwood.
Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle receives Oscar
Consolata Boyle has
landed an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.
The Dublin woman was nominated for her work on comedy-drama
Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep.
Consolata has been working on costumes in theatre and film
since the early 1980s and her credits include Angela's Ashes and The Iron Lady.
She won an Emmy in 2004 for her work on The Lion in Winter, and was nominated
for an Oscar in 2007 for Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on The
"My journey in to the film industry was quite
unexpected. I was working in theatre when I got the opportunity to work on a
film, and I was fascinated by the art. I started doing very small films, then
moved in to television and then in to bigger films. It was all a very natural
progression and very organic, and I absolutely loved it," she told Weekend
Magazine last year.
"Awards season is incredible because you go through all
the rituals. The screenings, question and answer sessions and events all happen
before the big event. It's great because everyone there is completely obsessed
by film, and delightfully curious and enthusiastic."
Consolata has also worked on The Van, The Snapper and Into
In a successful day for Irish film, Irish-Ethiopian actress
Ruth Negga secured an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her role in Loving,
while Irish-funded The Lobster, staring Colin Farrell, secured Oscar nomination
for Best Original Screenplay.
The 89th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre at
Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood on February 26 and will be hosted by
HOW THE PERIOD COSTUMES IN JUDI DENCH'S 'VICTORIA AND ABDUL'
HELP TELL A STORY THAT WAS ALMOST LOST TO HISTORY
Costume designer Consolata Boyle's turn-of-the-century
wardrobe helps portray the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her
Indian Muslim teacher Abdul Karim.
Based on the novel "Victoria & Abdul: The True
Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant," by Shrabani Basu, the Dame Judi
Dench-starring film "Victoria and Abdul" sheds light on the close
friendship between Queen Victoria and Indian servant-turned-confidante Abdul
Karim. Out of fondness, the Queen (and Empress of India) bestowed privilege,
power and land to the Muslim Indian spiritual guide (or "munshi"), which
you can imagine did not go over well with the xenophobic court and royal
servants during the aggressive late "imperial century" portion of the
British colonial empire.
The true story of the unexpected (and then-controversial)
royal friendship also brings the opportunity for a sweeping, prestige period
drama by acclaimed director Stephen Frears — and the sumptuous costumes that
come with it. Although, I do feel the need to mention: While the movie tries to
emphasize cultural, ethnic and religious tolerance, it's hard to ignore Great
Britain's cruel colonial history and the icky mystical Asian man portrayal of
real person and colonial subject Abdul, played by Ali Fazal. That said, I'll
leave the in-depth discussion to the film and culture critics and focus instead
on the stunning 19th-century period costumes spanning the two cultures, created
by Consolata Boyle.
The costume design is even more notable considering that
much documentation of the Victoria and Abdul's relationship was destroyed and
lost to history. Plus, Queen Victoria famously wore black — as many women in
the Victorian period did — for her remaining 40 years after the passing of
beloved husband Albert in 1861, calling for extreme creativity when designing
dresses for a 2D film.
Of course, Boyle is no stranger to monumental period pieces,
especially ones depicting British monarchs played by knighted thespians. She
received her first Oscar nomination for the Frears-directed "The
Queen," starring Dame Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. (She earned her
second nod for dressing American movie royalty Meryl Streep in "Florence
Foster Jenkins" in 2016.) A longtime Frears collaborator, Boyle also
worked with the director and Dench on the Oscar-nominated "Philomena."
While on a quick visit to sunny Los Angeles to promote the
film, Boyle jumped on the phone to chat with me about how Queen Victoria's all
black wardrobe did evolve as she found happiness and joy in her friendship, how
costume reimagined the royal court tailor's cultural appropriation of Abdul's
first outfit in Great Britain and what it's like working with the formidable
Dame Judi Dench.
What challenges did you face when working with so much
Victorian-era black? How did make Queen Victoria's dresses so dynamic for the
It is true that she wore black and so did much of her court
and many people in the Victorian Era, to which she gave her name. There was so
much death around — of children, of relations — and obviously she was in
deepest mourning for Albert after he died, then various other relations would
die, and then the mourning process would keep on going. But one thing that I
was very aware of with all the black is that we could use as much texture as
possible, and this really helped the lighting cameraman.
I had many conversations with mechanical and our lighting
cameraman about how to make black have more depth and be less flat and less
slightly light absorbing. In keeping with the fashion and facts of the time,
there was a lot of heavy embellishment on the gowns and a lot of detail, a lot
of embroidery, a lot of lace, a lot of layered on trim. Jet, which sparkles in
light, was a very common decoration. Pleating, frilling and masses of ribbon
was used in Victorian period to create texture and detail, and Victoria was a
great person for adding embellishment and the use of jewelry.
But also, in order to help us tell her story as [the
Queen's] relationship developed with Abdul, I used subtle different sorts of
dark tones, like very dark gray or turf brown or purples, which were a mourning
color, various purples and lavenders; then, of course, the traditional white,
which is a very important later stage mourning color. The lace and actual white
fabrics and silks used were part of the process of the mourning, but also
helped the telling of our story as things lightened, particularly during their
trips to Italy when she starts to rediscover joy, interest and the closeness of
her friendship with Abdul.
How did you research how to design Abdul's costumes,
especially since so much of the documentation had been destroyed?
Very, very deliberately, masses of visual reference were
lost — particularly of him and of the two of them together — which there had
been a lot of. But there was a enough. We did a massive amount of research and
we found in various archives images of Abdul as he progressed through the royal
household. When he started, that uniform he and [fellow Indian servant]
Mohammed [played by Adeel Akhtar] were put in initially [above] is like a
concoction of a Western version of what they think an Indian and a servant
would wear. In many aways it echoes what the servants in the royal household
wore — the gold-embellishment and trim — and it had a very Indian feel (or what
the royal tailors perceive to be an Indian feel), which of course was always a
Then, you could see as Abdul became 'munshi' — as she made
him her 'munshi' and teacher — he started to wear more flamboyant, more
traditional Indian clothing of high ranking [below]; a lot of silks, a lot of
rich colors, a lot of surface details. As he progressed, and became more
pompous and caused more discord in the royal household, his visual look added
also to the disquiet and the racism [from] within the household, which is quite
obvious to our story. So it was a progression from the very simple look of when
he's in Agra as a lowly clerk and to the royal household where he's first a
servant and then moves on to becoming dangerously close to the Queen, to the
horror of everybody.
The beginning of the movie shows an aging Queen Victoria
being woken and physically dressed by a procession of dressers and ladies-in
waiting; how did that whole elaborate scene affect your job as the costume
It was very important, right from when she's hauled out of
bed, literally comatose, by her personal servants and her maids of the bed
chamber, to when she starts the process, so that the actor feels the
constraints of the corset and the feeling of the weight of the clothes of that
period and how they would affect how people walked while bringing all this
fabric around with them and whipping it around as they turned corners and how
it limited what a person could do. All of that was very important to get that
But also Victoria's passivity and — through the feeling of
sadness about that scene of dressing scene — of her literally being treated
like a child and literally sticking her arms, like, her arms out, arms up, in
you go, out you go. That kind of strange set up — this mixture from her servants
of fear and yet arrogance — that comes with power and obviously, she's at an
age and a frail woman at that point. She ends at the state banquet, and that
obviously is the [culmination] of her dressing [with the] final look of how she
is at her entrance and sitting at the head of the long table at the state
The state banquet scene in the beginning was spectacular in
terms of the number of people in costume and the overall composition. How did
you handle that?
I'm very lucky in that I had a brilliant team, and that
particular scene was brought forward in the schedule, which obviously is
everybody's nightmare working in film. It was a massive rush to get it ready.
All of the ladies of the court and the gentlemen of the court and all of the
servants and everything had to be completely right and yet have a flexibility,
so you felt it was real and that people were not just costumed dummies — that
everybody had a life and a background and a history of their own that every
single person was unique. We worked very hard.
What was it like working for a second time with Dame Judi
Dench, and how did your costumes to help put her in her role?
We worked very closely together. We have a lot of laughs. We
worked our way through everything: the weight of the costumes, the amount of
changes, how they expressed the woman, how we going to use the different dark
colors to express the development of the relationship, that woman's character —
and Judi just takes this. She has this wonderful instinctive skill — genius —
and it's almost mysterious. It's wonderful, you observe it in some great
actors. You cannot pin it down. She has this amazing ability to totally absorb
the character and just seamlessly work [in] and it's like something that's
intuitive in her. She opens herself up in every way, to life in every character
she plays. She's completely fearless and watching that and being part of that
was an absolute joy.
Homepage photo: Peter Mountain / Focus Features
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod (née Zelle;
7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was
a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for
Germany during World War I and executed by firing squad in France.
Margaretha Zelle was born 7 August 1876, in Leeuwarden, in
the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. She was the eldest of four
children of Adam Zelle (2 October 1840 – 13 March 1910) and his first wife
Antje van der Meulen (21 April 1842 – 9 May 1891). She had three brothers. Her
father owned a hat shop, made successful investments in the oil industry, and
became affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood that
included exclusive schools until the age of 13. Despite traditional assertions
that Mata Hari was partly of Javanese, i.e. Indonesian, descent, scholars
conclude she had no Asian or Middle Eastern ancestry and both her parents were
Soon after Margaretha's father went bankrupt in 1889, her
parents divorced, and then her mother died in 1891. Her father remarried in
Amsterdam on 9 February 1893 to Susanna Catharina ten Hoove (11 March 1844 – 1
December 1913), by whom he had no children. The family fell apart, and
Margaretha moved to live with her godfather, Mr. Visser, in Sneek. Subsequently,
she studied to be a kindergarten teacher in Leiden, but when the headmaster
began to flirt with her conspicuously, she was removed from the institution by her
offended godfather. A few months later, she fled to her uncle's home in The
At 18, Zelle answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper
placed by Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod (1 March 1856 – 9 January
1928), who was living in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)
and was looking for a wife. Zelle married MacLeod in Amsterdam on 11 July 1895.
He was the son of Captain John Brienen MacLeod (a descendant of the Gesto
branch of the MacLeods of Skye, hence his Scottish name) and Dina Louisa,
Baroness Sweerts de Landas. The marriage enabled her to move into the Dutch
upper class, and her finances were placed on a sound footing. They moved to
Malang on the east side of the island of Java, traveling out on SS Prinses
Amalia in May 1897, and had two children, Norman-John MacLeod (30 January 1897
– 27 June 1899) and Louise Jeanne MacLeod (2 May 1898 – 10 August 1919).
The marriage was an overall disappointment. MacLeod was an
alcoholic and regularly beat his wife, who was twenty years younger and whom he
blamed for his lack of promotion. He also openly kept a concubine, a socially
accepted practice in the Dutch East Indies at that time. The disenchanted Zelle
abandoned him temporarily, moving in with Van Rheedes, another Dutch officer.
She studied the Indonesian traditions intensively for several months and joined
a local dance company during that time. In correspondence to her relatives in
the Netherlands in 1897, she revealed her artistic name of Mata Hari, the word
for "sun" in the local Malay language (literally, "eye of the
At MacLeod's urging, Zelle returned to him, but his behavior
did not change. She escaped her circumstances by studying the local culture. In
1899, their children fell violently ill from complications relating to the
treatment of syphilis contracted from their parents, though the family claimed
they were poisoned by an irate servant. Jeanne survived, but Norman died. Some sources
maintain that one of MacLeod's enemies may have poisoned a supper to kill both
of their children. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple officially
separated on 30 August 1902. The divorce became final in 1906. Zelle was
awarded custody of Jeanne. MacLeod was legally required to pay support, which
he never did, making life very difficult for Zelle and her daughter. During a
visit of Jeanne with her father, MacLeod decided not to return Jeanne to her
mother. Zelle did not have resources to fight the situation and accepted it,
believing that while McLeod had been an abusive husband, he had always been a
good father. Jeanne later died at the age of 21, also possibly from
complications relating to syphilis.
In 1903, Zelle moved to Paris, where she performed as a
circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod, much to the disapproval of the
Dutch MacLeods. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist's
By 1905, Mata Hari began to win fame as an exotic dancer.
She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in
the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 20th century
looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write
about this and other such movements within the context of Orientalism. Gabriel
Astruc became her personal booking agent.
Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body,
Mata Hari captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut
of her act at the Musée Guimet on 13 March 1905. She became the long-time
mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet, who had
founded the Musée. She posed as a Javanese princess of priestly Hindu birth,
pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since
childhood. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or
nearly so. Some of these pictures were obtained by MacLeod and strengthened his
case in keeping custody of their daughter.
Mata Hari brought a carefree provocative style to the stage
in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act
was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and
some ornaments upon her arms and head. She was seldom seen without a bra as she
was self-conscious about being small-breasted. She wore a bodystocking for her
performances that was similar in color to her own skin.
Although Mata Hari's claims about her origins were
fictitious, it was very common for entertainers of her era to invent colorful
stories about their origins as part of the show. Her act was successful because
it elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status and so broke new ground
in a style of entertainment for which Paris was later to become world-famous.
Her style and free-willed attitude made her a popular woman, as did her
eagerness to perform in exotic and revealing clothing. She posed for provocative
photos and mingled in wealthy circles. Since most Europeans at the time were
unfamiliar with the Dutch East Indies, Mata Hari was thought of as exotic, and
it was assumed her claims were genuine. One evidently enthused French
journalist wrote in a Paris newspaper that Mata Hari was "so feline,
extremely feminine, majestically tragic, the thousand curves and movements of
her body trembling in a thousand rhythms." One journalist in Vienna wrote
after seeing one of her performances that Mata Hari was "slender and tall
with the flexible grace of a wild animal, and with blue-black hair" and
that her face "makes a strange foreign impression."
By about 1910, myriad imitators had arisen. Critics began to
opine that the success and dazzling features of the popular Mata Hari were due
to cheap exhibitionism and lacked artistic merit. Although she continued to
schedule important social events throughout Europe, she was held in disdain by
serious cultural institutions as a dancer who did not know how to dance.
Mata Hari's career went into decline after 1912. On 13 March
1915, she performed in what would be the last show of her career. She had begun
her career relatively late for a dancer, and had started putting on weight.
However, by this time she had become a successful courtesan, known more for her
sensuality and eroticism than for her beauty. She had relationships with
high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential
positions in many countries. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men
frequently took her across international borders. Prior to World War I, she was
generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war
approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and
perhaps a dangerous seductress.
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a
Dutch subject, Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid
the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain
and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention. During the war,
Zelle was involved in what was described as a very intense romantic-sexual
relationship with a Russian pilot serving with the French, the twenty-five year
old Captain Vadim Maslov, whom she called the love of her life. Maslov was part
of the 50,000 strong Russian Expeditionary Force sent to the Western Front in
the spring of 1916.
In the summer of 1916, Maslov was shot down and badly
wounded during a dogfight with the Germans, losing his sight in both eyes,
which led Zelle to ask for permission to visit her wounded lover at the
hospital where he was staying near the front. As a citizen of a neutral
country, Zelle would not normally be allowed near the front. Zelle was met by
agents from the Deuxième Bureau who told her that she would only be allowed to
see Maslov if she agreed to spy on Germany.
Before the war, Zelle had performed as Mata Hari several
times before the Crown Prince Wilhelm, eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and
nominally a senior German general on the Western Front. The Deuxième Bureau
believed she might be able to obtain information by seducing the Crown Prince
for military secrets. In fact, his involvement was minimal and it was German
government propaganda that promoted the image of the Crown Prince as a great
warrior, the worthy successor to the august Hohenzollern monarchs who had made
Prussia strong and powerful. They wanted to avoid publicizing that the man
expected to be the next Kaiser was a playboy noted for womanizing, partying,
and indulging in alcohol, who spent another portion of his time intriguing with
far right-wing politicians, with the intent to have his father declared insane
Unaware that the Crown Prince did not have much to do with
the running of Army Group Crown Prince or the 5th Army, the Deuxième Bureau
offered Zelle one million francs if she could seduce him and provide France
with good intelligence about German plans. The fact that the Crown Prince had,
before 1914, never commanded a unit larger than a regiment, and was now
supposedly commanding both an army and an army group at the same time should
have been a clue that his role in German decision-making was mostly nominal.
Zelle's contact with the Deuxième Bureau was Captain Georges Ladoux, who was
later to emerge as one of her principal accusers.
In November 1916, she was travelling by steamer from Spain
when her ship called at the British port of Falmouth. There she was arrested
and brought to London where she was interrogated at length by Sir Basil
Thomson, Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard in charge of
counter-espionage. He gave an account of this in his 1922 book Queer People,
saying that she eventually admitted to working for the Deuxième Bureau.
Initially detained in Cannon Street police station, she was then released and
stayed at the Savoy Hotel. A full transcript of the interview is in Britain's
National Archives and was broadcast, with Mata Hari played by Eleanor Bron, on
the independent station LBC in 1980. It is unclear if she lied on this
occasion, believing the story made her sound more intriguing, or if French
authorities were using her in such a way but would not acknowledge her due to
the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause.
In late 1916, Zelle travelled to Madrid, where she met with
the German military attaché, Major Arnold Kalle, and asked if he could arrange
a meeting with the Crown Prince. During this period, Zelle apparently offered
to share French secrets with Germany in exchange for money, though whether this
was because of greed or an attempt to set up a meeting with Crown Prince
Wilhelm remains unclear.
In January 1917, Major Kalle transmitted radio messages to
Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose
biography so closely matched Zelle's that it was patently obvious that Agent
H-21 could only be Mata Hari. The Deuxième Bureau intercepted the messages and,
from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. The messages
were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the
French, suggesting that the messages were contrived to have Zelle arrested by
General Walter Nicolai, the chief IC (intelligence officer)
of the German Army, had grown very annoyed that Mata Hari had provided him with
no intelligence worthy of the name, instead selling the Germans mere Paris
gossip about the sex lives of French politicians and generals, and decided to
terminate her employment by exposing her as a German spy to the French.
In December 1916, the French Second Bureau of the French War
Ministry let Mata Hari obtain the names of six Belgian agents. Five were
suspected of submitting fake material and working for the Germans, while the
sixth was suspected of being a double agent for Germany and France. Two weeks
after Mata Hari had left Paris for a trip to Madrid, the double agent was
executed by the Germans, while the five others continued their operations. This
development served as proof to the Second Bureau that the names of the six
spies had been communicated by Mata Hari to the Germans.
On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at
the Hotel Elysée Palace on the Champs Elysées in Paris. She was put on trial on
24 July, accused of spying for Germany, and consequently causing the deaths of
at least 50,000 soldiers. Although the French and British intelligence
suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce definite evidence
against her. Supposedly secret ink was found in her room, which was
incriminating evidence in that period. She contended that it was part of her
Zelle's principal interrogator was Captain Pierre
Bouchardon, the man who was to prosecute her at her trial, who grilled her
relentlessly. Bouchardon was able to establish that much of the Mata Hari
persona was invented, and far from being a Javanese princess, Zelle was
actually Dutch, which he was to use as evidence of her dubious and dishonest
character at her trial. Zelle admitted to Bouchardon that she had accepted
20,000 francs from a German diplomat in the Netherlands to spy on France, but
insisted she only passed on to the Germans trivial information as her loyalty
was entirely to her adopted nation, France. In the meantime, Ladoux had been
preparing a case against his former agent by casting all of her activities in
the worst possible light, going so far as to engage in evidence tampering.
In 1917, France had been badly shaken by the Great Mutinies
of the French Army in the spring of 1917 following the failure of the Nivelle
Offensive together with a huge strike wave, and at the time, many believed that
France might simply collapse as a result of war exhaustion. In July 1917, a new
government under Georges Clemenceau, aka "le tigre", had come into
power, utterly committed to winning the war. In this context, having one German
spy for whom everything that went wrong with the war so far could be blamed was
most convenient for the French government, making Mata Hari the perfect
scapegoat, which explains why the case against her received maximum publicity
in the French press, and led to her importance in the war being greatly
exaggerated. The Canadian historian Wesley Wark stated in a 2014 interview that
Mata Hari was never an important spy and just made a scapegoat for French
military failures which she had nothing to do with, stating: "They needed
a scapegoat and she was a notable target for scapegoating". Likewise, the
British historian Julie Wheelwright stated: "She really did not pass on
anything that you couldn’t find in the local newspapers in Spain".
Wheelwright went on to describe Zelle as "...an independent woman, a
divorcee, a citizen of a neutral country, a courtesan and a dancer, which made
her a perfect scapegoat for the French, who were then losing the war. She was
kind of held up as an example of what might happen if your morals were too
Zelle wrote several letters to the Dutch Ambassador in
Paris, claiming her innocence. "My international connections are due of my
work as a dancer, nothing else .... Because I really did not spy, it is
terrible that I cannot defend myself".] The most terrible and
heart-breaking moment for Mata Hari during the trial occurred when her lover
Maslov – by now a deeply embittered man as a result of losing his eyes in combat
– declined to testify for her, telling her he couldn't care less if she were
convicted or not. It was reported that Zelle fainted when she learned that
Maslov had abandoned her.
Her defence attorney, veteran international lawyer Édouard
Clunet, faced impossible odds; he was denied permission either to cross-examine
the prosecution's witnesses or to examine his own witnesses directly.[citation
needed] Bouchardon used the very fact that Zelle was a woman as evidence of her
guilt, saying: "Without scruples, accustomed to make use of men, she is
the type of woman who is born to be a spy
Mata Hari herself admitted under interrogation to taking
money to work as a German spy. It is contended by some historians that Mata
Hari may have merely accepted money from the Germans without actually carrying
out any spy duties. At her trial, Zelle vehemently insisted that her sympathies
were with the Allies and declared her passionate love of France, her adopted
homeland. In October 2001, documents released from the archives of MI5 (British
counter-intelligence) were used by a Dutch group, the Mata Hari Foundation to
ask the French government to exonerate Zelle as they argued that the MI5 files
proved she was not guilty of the charges she was convicted of. A spokesman from
the Mata Hari Foundation argued that at most Zelle was a low-level spy who
provided no secrets to either side, stating: "We believe that there are
sufficient doubts concerning the dossier of information that was used to
convict her to warrant re-opening the case. Maybe she wasn't entirely innocent,
but it seems clear she wasn't the master-spy whose information sent thousands
of soldiers to their deaths, as has been claimed.".
Zelle was executed by a firing squad of 12 French officers
just before dawn on 15 October 1917. She was 41. According to an eyewitness
account by British reporter Henry Wales, she was not bound and refused a
blindfold. She defiantly blew a kiss to the firing squad. Zelle has often been
portrayed as a femme fatale, the dangerous, seductive woman who uses her
sexuality to effortlessly manipulate men, but others view her differently: in
the words of the American historians Norman Polmer and Thomas Allen she was
"naïve and easily duped", a victim of men rather than a victimizer.
A 1934 New Yorker article reported that at her execution she
wore "a neat Amazonian tailored suit, especially made for the occasion,
and a pair of new white gloves" though another account indicates she wore
the same suit, low-cut blouse and tricorn hat ensemble which had been picked
out by her accusers for her to wear at trial, and which was still the only
full, clean outfit which she had in prison. Neither description matches
photographic evidence. Wales recorded her death, saying that after the volley
of shots rang out, "Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up
always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the
fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing
directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at
the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her." A non-commissioned
officer then walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver, and shot her in
the head to make sure she was dead.
Mata Hari's body was not claimed by any family members and
was accordingly used for medical study. Her head was embalmed and kept in the
Museum of Anatomy in Paris. In 2000, archivists discovered that it had
disappeared, possibly as early as 1954, according to curator Roger Saban, when
the museum had been relocated. It remains missing. Records dated from 1918 show
that the museum also received the rest of the body, but none of the remains
could later be accounted for.
Mata Hari's sealed trial and related other documents were
scheduled to be declassified by the French Army in 2017, one hundred years
after her execution.
The Frisian museum (Dutch: Fries Museum) in Leeuwarden, the
Netherlands, contains a "Mata Hari Room". Included in the exhibit are
two of her personal scrapbooks and an oriental rug embroidered with the
footsteps of her fan dance. Located in Mata Hari's native town, the museum is
well known for research into the life and career of Leeuwarden's world-famous
citizen. The largest ever Mata Hari exhibition has been opened in the Museum of
Friesland on 14 October 2017, one hundred years after her death.
Mata Hari's birthplace is located in the building at Kelders
33. The building suffered smoke and water damage during a fire in 2013, but was
later restored. Architect Silvester Adema studied old drawings of the
storefront in order to reconstruct it as it appeared when Abraham Zelle, the
father of Mata Hari, had a hat shop there. In 2016, an information centre
(belevingscentrum) was created in the building displaying mementos of Mata Hari.