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costume in cinema

20th century, costume in cinema

TV Review: Bomb Girls (2012 – present)

Starring Meg Tilly, Jodi Balfour, and Charlotte Hegele.  Costumes designed by Joanne Hansen.

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This is a Canadian TV series (set in Toronto, I believe?) about various women who work at a munitions factory during World War II… and it is complete soap opera, and I love it!  The lead character is Gladys, daughter of a wealthy family who wants to get involved in the war effort and rebel against her parents, so she gets a job at the factory.  There she meets many working class women, from Lorna (the older supervisor with a difficult home life, played by Meg Tilly) to Vera (the flightly girl who faces a big challenge) to Betty — the strong independent woman, who falls for sheltered Kate, running away from an abusive family.  The stories follow them into the factory and out as the war complicates their lives, does a beautiful job showing the many opportunities and challenges that the war caused for women, and has some excellently soap opera-esque storylines to keep you hooked.

Best of all, the costume designer did a BRILLIANT job.  Everything from the factory outfits to the street and dress-up wear, hair, makeup, etc. is appropriate to the period.  In particular, they either have a stock of vintage rayon prints or a source for making stunning reproductions, because the women wear dress after dress that makes you go, “WHOA, that is SUCH a 1940’s print!”

My review:  5 (out of 5)

18th century, costume in cinema

TV Review: Let Them Eat Cake (1999)

Starring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.  Costumes designed by Sarah Burns.

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This TV series, created by French & Saunders (a famous British comedy team; you probably know Jennifer Saunders from Absolutely Fabulous) is COMPLETELY HILARIOUS.  It’s set at Versailles in 1782, and Saunders plays the Comtesse de Vache (Countess of Cow), an AbFab version of an aristocrat who spars with her witty maid (Dawn French), hairdresser, and rival Madame de Plonge.  If you like historical humor, you will love this.  If you like AbFab, you will love this.  Nothing makes me howl as much as the opening 6 minutes of the episode “Murder,” when the Comtesse’s attendants leave her alone for two days, and she’s unable to get out of bed because — well, she’s an aristocrat! She can’t get herSELF out of bed!

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Berrington plays a Queenie version of Marie Antoinette, complete with ridiculous Austrian accent.

The costumes are definitely theatrical:  I think all of the dresses have fitted backs, some of which are incongruous with the rest of the dress; some of the fabrics are weird; and there are some non-18th c. aesthetics, like skirts of a different color than the bodice.  That being said, I really quite liked many of the costumes!  The wigs are great, it LOOKS like they used silk for many of the dresses, and sometimes a character will step out in something that will make you say, “Wow, I think they based that on a real historical garment!” See Marie Antoinette’s dress below, and the Comtesse de Vache’s blue & white jacket ensemble (okay the pockets are weird, but otherwise, I quite like it!).

I can’t recommend this highly enough!

My review:  5 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 18th C. Costume Movie Reviews.  For more silly takes on history, check out Casanova (the David Tennant version), Lost in Austen (2008), and The Young Visiters (2004).

20th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis.  Costumes designed by Sharen Davis.

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Okay, so no doubt you read/heard about this movie when it came out.  Strong performances from many of the cast members, a good quality film but definitely made for Oscars, some issues around the fact that it celebrates a fictional strong young white woman for telling the story of African Americans rather than celebrating real historical strong African-American women.

What I want to talk about is hair.  Specifically, lead character Skeeter’s hair.  Apparently in the book I have not read, Skeeter has curly, frizzy hair that is the bane of her existence (as it is so NOT the mid-1960s beauty ideal).  An article quotes Hair Department Head Camille Friend who says, “In the book, she has unruly hair, and it’s a pivotal story point, so we decided on a blonde, curly hair texture for her lace-front wig” (American Salon, July 2011).

Okay kids.  In the mid-60s, you did NOT want curly hair.

... too curly locks?

This was an era when they didn’t know how to deal with natural curl.  Artificial, styled curl?  Yes.  Natural curl?  Find ways to smooth it out via brushing, cutting, large rollers, you name it.  I can’t even find any images of women with naturally curly hair in this era.  If I could, it would look more like this:

Vintage Postcard ~ Curly Hair

Or this:

Vintage Postcard

Or this:

Vintage Woman

It would NOT look like this:

Emma Stone as Skeeter in The Help

That is all.

My review:  3 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 20th C. Costume Movie Reviews.  If you’re in the mood for better done mid-century, check out An Education (2009), Far From Heaven (2002), and Revolutionary Road (2008).

18th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: Plunkett & MacLeane (1999)

Starring Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, and Liv Tyler.  Costumes designed by Janty Yates.

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I’ve had a review of this film posted for a long time, and it was written based on only a vague memory of the film. However, my friend Shawna encouraged me to watch it again because the costumes were so whacked… so this one’s for Shawna!

Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle play highwaymen — Miller is the classy one, Carlyle the down and dirty — who team up to rob from the rich in a generally very light-hearted, dark comedy, “modern” take on the classic buddy/adventure film.  Miller falls in love with Liv Tyler’s character, who’s a well to do lady who falls in with the bad boys.  Alan Cumming plays a super fop who is hilarious.  It’s fun and fast-paced and not too deep.

And… the costumes.  Oh, the costumes.  When the movie opens, a title card tells us the year — I’m pretty sure it’s 1748, but I could be off by a year or two.  Here’s why this matters:  Look, filmmakers — you clearly were not trying to make a Merchant/Ivory, historically accurate down to the toilet paper masterpiece.  Why throw a year on there?  Why not just let it be an 18th century-esque period-ish film?  Because lemme tell you, the costumes are a TOTAL MISHMASH of different eras, some historical, some not.  Someone will be wearing a 1770s pouf hairstyle and sitting next to someone else in a 1750s tete de mouton.  Liv Tyler has one scene (the ball) where she wears an 18th c. hairstyle, but the rest of the film she runs around with her hair down.  And the dresses are, by and large, totally goth-ified, sex-ified, and modern-ified, which you can see in the images below.  At least Liv’s are generally pretty… With the aristocracy, they’re very amped up and over the top in a silly way.  Many times it works, even when Alan Cumming (complete with eyebrow ring) is wearing the 18th c. equivalent of a purple Mad Hatter hat.  But there’s a minor character who, at her wedding, wears a sort-of-francaise that has, I kid you not, what looks like 2×4’s for panniers — it’s so bad I went and screencapped it from YouTube so I could show you.  Of course, the screencaps don’t really do it justice, so you might want to watch the scene starting at 0:43 yourself.

In the end, it’s a fun movie, and laughing at the costumes is part of the fun, so I do recommend it!

My review:  3 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 18th c. Costume Movie Reviews.  If you’re in the mood for more silly-take-on-18th-century, I specifically recommend the following costume movies:  Abduction Club (2002), Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), Casanova with David Tennant (2005), and Fanny Hill (2007).

20th century, costume in cinema

Movie Review: Water for Elephants (2011)


Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz.  Costumes designed by Jacqueline West.

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I have a particular connection to the history of the circus, as my father’s family were circus and vaudeville performers in Germany, England, and the US during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  So I may be biased in enjoying this story based in the circus of 1930s.  Robert Pattinson is actually relatively good as the veterinarian who, when his life crumbles, runs away and becomes a circus vet.  Reese Witherspoon is the star performer who, in gorgeous costumes and with faaaabulous hair, does a beauty act with elephants; Christoph Waltz is her anger-management-issues/abusive husband who owns the circus and so has a hold on everyone’s lives.  Of course, Pattinson’s and Witherspoon’s characters fall in love, and tragedy strikes, as you might expect.  It’s not a revolutionary story, but it’s good, and it’s an interesting milieu in which to set a film.  And Uggie (the fabulous dog from The Artist) is in it!!!

The main focus of the costumes are of course on Reese.  She has beautiful sparkly stage costumes and a great casual yet chic 1930s wardrobe.

The only real down side is that after the film’s release, it came out that the trainers may have abused the lead elephant from the film, which is really horrible.

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 20th c. Costume Movie Reviews.  I specifically recommend the following 1930s costume movies:  The Aviator (2004), Cold Comfort Farm (1995), Glorious 39 (2009), A Good Woman (2004), Gosford Park (2001), I Capture the Castle (2003), Love in a Cold Climate (2001), Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008), South Riding (2011), and Upstairs Downstairs (2010). Phew, there’s a lot of great 1930s-era costume movies!

17th century, costume in cinema

Movie (TV miniseries) Review: The Devil’s Whore (2008)

(Note: I am catching up on all the movie reviews that I’ve been needing to post!  There will be more reviews coming!)


Starring Andrea Riseborough, Dominic West, and Michael Fassbender. Costumes designed by Michele Clapton.

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A few months ago, somebody asked if I took requests/recommendations for movies to review.  I wasn’t organized enough to respond at the time, so this review is my response, as it’s one of you who recommended it!  I totally missed this British miniseries when it came out, and I confess, the title conversely made me think of cranky Puritans and boring giant-white-collar butter-churny dresses…

I was wrong!  This was GREAT, and the costumes were gorgeous!  Andrea Riseborough stars as the fictional English aristocrat who is a part of Charles I’s court and then is caught up with Oliver Cromwell & Co. during the English Civil War.  Sure, it’s awfully convenient that Angelica happens to be involved with all of these key people, as well as different events and movements of the period, but hey, that’s the fun of good historical fiction.  She starts off young and somewhat unsure, and over the course of many trials and tribulations finds A) love and B) herself… and Michael Fassbender plays her love interest, which:  RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!  Dominic West plays Cromwell, and while West can be attractive, he’s definitely not in this!

The costumes were gorgeous, with Riseborough in various beautiful 1650s-60s-esque dresses.  They did stick with basically the same dress cut throughout the film, which ignores the developments of women’s styles over time, and they definitely needed more petticoats under the gowns.  Okay, and sometimes the off-the-shoulder was WAY too off-the-shoulder.  I don’t know enough about men’s costume of this era to be able to say whether it was accurate or not — it certainly looked good to my eye, but maybe you can tell me more!

If you like historical fiction (and I do), you’ll like this.  So, a big thank you to whoever recommended this miniseries!

My rating:  5 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my 17th c. Costume Movie Reviews.  I specifically recommend the following shiny 17th c. costume movies:  The Last King (2004) and Stage Beauty (2004).

20th century, costume in cinema

Movie (okay, TV miniseries) Review: Birdsong (2012)

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Poesy.  Costumes designed by Charlotte Walter.

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I’ve had this book in my “to read” pile for years, and never gotten around to it.  Yay! said I, when I heard there would be a TV adaptation.  I can decide if I like the story enough to read the book!  The answer:  nope.

I’m not sure if it’s the plot or the production, but it just felt totally lackluster.  Stephen is an Englishman who meets and falls for the married Isabelle, and she for him.  World War I intervenes, and Stephen has a miserable time in the trenches.  The two find each other again, but are ultimately parted by Random Issues That Would Never Really Keep Anyone Apart.  This all (minus the ending) sounds okay, right?  But it’s just a big ball of MEH.  Neither Redmayne nor Poesy give an inspired performance, and their characters are relatively spineless and annoying.  Visually, it’s fine, but the costumes are very “Hey! We’re casual people wearing modern clothes!”  That’s not to say I think they should be dressing like the Tsar/Tsarina of Russia, just that there are ways to make middle class clothing interesting, but the costumer doesn’t do so here.

My rating:  1 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might also want to check my Edwardian Costume Movie Reviews.  I specifically recommend the following World War I costume movies:  Downton Abbey (2010) and The Winslow Boy (1999).  If you’re down with the cheese, then I also recommend In Love and War (1996).

What did you think?  Have you watched it, and if so, did Redmayne/Poesy annoy you to death?  Do you remember any of the costumes?