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Regency romance, & Empire page antries | History of Fashion Design

Regency romance, & Empire page antries


Regency romance, and Empire pageantry: “And in their ‘country’ fashions too I see.”

Celluloid Wrappers: Austen Adaptations

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Always Austen


Beau Brummell, Silent with John Barrymore
The Bride, Sting plays Baron Frankenstein, who tries to make a bride, “Eva”, for his “creature”, only to decide he wants her for himself. Eva, however has other notions, since she finds the disfigured male creature less monstrous in personality than the handsome Baron. More gothic romance than horror film.

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Captain Horatio Hornblower a middle part of the CS Forester series of Horatio Hornblower novels was made into a color Gregory Peck movie in the 1950’s. It has been known for years for the detailed accuracy of the uniforms, although it is far less stringent about the women’s dress.
The Count of Monte Cristo Gorgeous scene designs and costumes make this version watchable, but not even the nice fight choreography by William Hobbs can make up for the fact that they cut far too much of the story. For more costumes in a better version see the French language made for TV miniseries version with Gerard Depardieu.


Damn the Defiant! Alec Guinness as a Nelson era sea captain trapped in a no-win situation.
Desiree Marlon Brando as Napoleon, having a love affair that interferes in politics, and vice versa.

The Duellists Cult classic of two soldiers who start a duel c. 1800, get interrupted, start again, are interrupted again, etc. etc. till 1818 or so when they finish. Harvey Keitel shines as an increasingly delusional “injured party”, who stalks his hapless counterpart for years demanding “satisfaction”.

The Duellists

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Emma (both recent versions) Oddly flat, the both of them, despite really fine casts and production values for both. However to really get at the essential humor of this Austen fable about a rich matchmaking girl who means well, but is a bit clueless, rent Clueless, the 1990’s modern adaptation of this same story.

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Movieweb: Emma
Upcomingmovies.com: The Emperor’s New Clothes Romantic comedy with Ian Holm in dual roles as Napoleon, and a lowly shlub who impersonates him while they switch places. The fake emperor dies suddenly on St. Helena, leaving the real Emperor unable to manage his planned coup, but in a perfect position to marry his counterpart’s pretty landlady and live happily and anonymously ever after.
Enchanted Summer Shelly, Mary Shelly, Dr. Polidori and Byron have a romantic summer by Lake Geneva and get inspired to write. A warm Feminist valentine.

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Gothic “Nightmare on Elm Street for English Majors” Time called it, where Ken Russell takes exactly the same characters and situation as Enchanted Summer has, but gives it that Ken Russell sexy horror flick spin. Very weird, and the better of the two films, if relentlessly silly.

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A Hazard of Hearts (TV film of Cartland Novel) The best of the silly Lord Grade/Cartland Adaptations, which feature lavish production values and all star casts. Eileen Atkins and Anna Massey play maids in this! The only sucking void is the actor playing the “hero”, who mercifully I’ve never seen in another film. The heroine, happily is done by the very young Helena Bonham Carter, who amazingly manages to give a wimpy Cartland heroine “teeth” by her acerbic readings of what in print are seemingly bland innocuous lines. The best script fun however is had by the villains played by Peter Fox and Diana Rigg, who in typical Cartland style are far more interesting people than the romantic couples.
Horatio HornblowerThis A&E series of 4 two hour Horatio Hornblower films (later expanded by another 2 set in the early 1800s, to be followed soon by two more, set presumably a little later) covers the first Forester novel Mr Midshipman Hornblower which spans 1792-1796. The costume designer John Mollo (The Duelists, Nicholas and Alexandra, Star Wars) is justly famed for his detailed research, particularly on uniforms, and not a shoe buckle is “off”. The films are full of action, period detail, and yummy actors in tight pants.

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Immortal Beloved The love life of Beethoven is dissected by an executor of his will, confused by the wording of a bequest. Part mystery, part tortured romance, part composer biopic. Les Miserables I haven’t seen it so I can’t yet comment.

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Mansfield Park Overrated, but worth seeing. More sex than most Austen adaptations. Take special note that Lindsey Duncan plays both the heroine’s worn to rags Mother, and wealthy, pampered opium addict Aunt, and can barely be recognized as the same actress.

Marat / Sade (full title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade As unlike anything Austen as you can imagine, this is the filmed version of the famous 1969 RSC Peter Brook directed production of the play, with Ian Richardson, Glenda Jackson and Patrick Magee. Inmates at an insane asylum in 1808 recreate the events of the French Revolution leading to the 1793 assassination of Revolutionary Marat, while director de Sade and Marat debate politics, ethics and sex questions that have meaning both for their times and ours. Extremely unusual, it is a textbook example of both “Brechtian” style staging and “Theatre of Cruelty” (two theatre styles previously thought to be opposite and mutually exclusive) . Gets more interesting each time you see it.

MovieWeb – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the WorldYes, it’s all pretty much naval uniforms. But they are all done RIGHT.
Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003) – MovieWeb
On a Clear Day You Can see Forever Flashback sequences in this musical film are designed by Cecil Beaton (My Fair Lady, Gigi), and are filmed in the Brighton Pavilion built by the Prince Regent (George IV).

Onegin This adaptation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin is curiously dull, despite a wonderfully weird design style that makes the most of the extreme fashions of this era. The story just seems to work better as an opera or epic poem.


Persuasion My favorite of the Austen adaptations of the 1990s (except for Clueless) this one gets her weird low key (was that a joke, or was she serious?) style. The heroine is quickly fading into a plain spinster, the dashing captain’s uniform needs a bit of dry cleaning, and the interfering family wears their fashion victim status so proudly you have to pity them for being so stupid. Best of all you get a real sense of tension between the two leads as each is mad for the other, and dying from frustration at not being able to do anything about it within the insanely repressed social framework they are trapped within, till nearly the last minute.

Poldark Sequel to the sexy TV miniseries of the same name set in the late 18th century, here the kids of Ross and Demelza Poldark grow up and get into the same soap opera problems as their parents once did. A teen Ioan Gruffed plays Poldark Jr.

Pride and Prejudice (1980’s and 1990’s British TV versions, 2005 film) Both are very good, although I prefer the 1980’s adaptation because of the amazingly well done script by Fay Weldon (writer of Life and Loves of a She Devil). However, anyone would admit that the 1990’s version has much more money spent on the production values, and some really fine actors (especially Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) that make the 1990s adaptation a must see. The 2005 film version I will see shortly.

Pride and Prejudice (Script by Fay Weldon)

Pride & Prejudice Appreciation Ring

Pride and Prejudice (BBC TV Miniseries) – The Special Edition

Pride and Prejudice (this version is costumed c.1835, so is out of this page’s period. While not especially faithful to Austen or the period, this is still a great film comedy with a fantastic cast, and the tastiest and stuffiest Darcy ever: the young Laurence Olivier. Greer Garson is also one of the sharpest tongued Elizabeth’s ever.
Princess Cariboo A gentle romantic comedy based on an obscure incident of the time of the Regent. Not to be missed, but best not described too much before seeing, or it hurts the effect of the film. Yes, it has a happy end, no, I won’t tell you more. Just see it.


Quills A wonderful film loosely based on a stage play about the fictional relationship between a priest, a laundress, and the Marquis de Sade during the latter’s incarceration in the mental asylum at Charenton. Most of the story takes place in the early 19th century, but several main characters are stuck in old clothes of the 1780s because it makes sense in the story that they would have old clothes. Stars Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix.

Sense And Sensibility Probably the smoothest adaptation of an Austen, the script for this film won Emma Thompson, the star, an Oscar for Best Screenplay adapted from another medium. Very close to the book, it avoids the usual trap of this particular story : taking things too seriously (all the other adaptations of S&S I’ve seen do this), and instead shows why Thompson began her career as a writer of comedy. Clothes in the film seem to have bits from about 1795-1805 rendered in careful detail that looks historically accurate without being pedantic.

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Movieweb: Sense and Sensibility
Sharpe (TV series) British beef, with no excuses. Lots of action (Napoleonic wars) and sex (British TV) bundled together with a little history and class conflict.


Sharpe Stuff: more Dick than you can poke a stick at

Over The Hills and Far Away frames (Sharpe)

St. Ives Hard to describe combination of swashbuckling romantic adventure with a sub plot of insane comedy, this uneven film is nonetheless a must see. The evil brother is played by the same stellar baddie who torched the church in The Patriot, and abused Dobby the house elf in Chamber of Secrets (see above), there is an escape from England done by stealing a balloon in the midst of a garden party, the sub plot couple are a hilariously geeky Richard E. Grant and an equally funny sexy widow played by Miranda Richardson who find themselves in compromising positions, The hero and heroine are charming, and the clothes are a nice gravy.

Vanity Fair is the story of the perpetually scheming trollop Becky Sharp, and has many film versions. This one is populated with lots of great British character actors (most with really unappealing dental ad ins to make them look more like leering caricatures of the era), but the production bogs down in spots, and benefits a bit from a fast-forward button when it does. However, it is so well produced, and has such a maliciously funny through line, that it should be seen, if for no better reason than it provides a delicious contrast to the sometimes excessively romantic and proper tales usually set in this era.
War and Peace (all versions) You know the story: Russia is invaded by Napoleon, and the war considerably complicates the love lives and family relationships of too many characters to keep track of, particularly when half the time they are referred to by their patronymics. Most film versions therefore cut down on the characters, and the war, to give a Cliff notes version that is still somehow too complicated, yet too abbreviated to make sense. However all versions can’t cut too much so they cost a ton of $$$, have lots of great costumes, and look great.
Wives and Daughters
Set in the late 1820s early 1830’s, this story of middle and upper class provincial gentry bridges the gap between Austonian simplicity, and Dickensian complication both in it’s plot and it’s costumes.


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