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).

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  • Reply SassyCountess September 21, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I went to see this in the theater, actually. I went with my brother and we were supposed to see something else, but we stayed. I love this movie. Yes, it is fanciful, but so are so many other historic-esque films. What I also love, is that the full length feature is on Youtube. Yay for us! I will say that I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the REALLY full cuffs on Cumming in one of the party scenes. So loved those!

  • Reply Shawna September 27, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for re-reviewing this one, Kendra. Glad you got a kick out of it. I totally hated it the first time I saw it (in the theater when it came out), but the second viewing sat better with me, esp. since I wasn’t expecting anything miraculous. The crazy-ass costumes are entertaining just in themselves and I don’t think anyone would say they wouldn’t give their right arm for Liv Tyler’s black spider-webby lace dress. It’s drool worthy.

  • Reply Andrew October 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve never seen this film, but these costumes look cray! I just don’t get why these types of choices are made! Is it the director or the designer, or both? I mean, I can understand maybe wanting to go a little more goth or fantasy with it (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein did that great, I thought) or do something really theatrical like Amadeus, but all that up there just looks like a combination of random, ugly and lazy.

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