Oh, Costume Dramas, How I Love Thee
Posted by Trish Milburn Jun 15 2010, 4:12 am
Most little girls love to play dress-up at some point during their youth, but they eventually grow out of it or at least exchange princess attire for name-brand style. And then there are those of us who still love the idea of playing dress-up or immersing ourselves in the world of costumes — clothing that takes us to a different place and time. If I had gone another career path and possessed the talent for it, I think I would have loved to be a costume designer for movies. That’s what inspired me to give my heroine that goal in my August young adult novel, Winter Longing.
My two favorite types of costumes are science fiction/fantasy and historical. I’ll leave the former for a later post Nancy and I will be doing post-Dragon*Con in September. Today, I want to explore my love affair with historical costume and costume dramas. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, when the TV mini-series was a big deal — stories like The Thorn Birds, Shogun, North and South (the American Civil War version based on the John Jakes novel). One of the earliest such mini-series I remember being enthralled by was Marco Polo, which came out in 1982, when I was 11 or 12, depending on the month it aired. It had costumes but also started the trend of me watching a TV show or movie based on some historical event or person and then wanting to know much more about it. I remember being so interested in Marco Polo and his travels that I read books about him after watching the mini-series. I even wrote a paper for school about him. Believe it or not, I still have that paper.
The Thorn Birds began my fascination with Australia, Shogun brought feudal Japan into my rural Kentucky living room, and North and South was filled with glorious costumes from my own country’s worst days. Later came the classic Gone With the Wind, and Scarlett O’Hara and her many gorgeous dresses. Who could forget the white and green picnic dress? The red gown? The green dress made from the curtains?
When I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, love of a different era and costuming was born — that of ancient China. The Chinese films are simply gorgeous, full of eye-popping color. My favorite is House of Flying Daggers, which included some stunning costumes worn by Ziya Zhang, pictured here.
I know many of my fellow Banditas are great fans of Regency England. True, the dramas such as the newest Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen are filled with gorgeous costuming that can spawn many a story idea. But the era of English history that fascinates me most is that of the Tudors. Numerous dramas about the Tudors have been feasts for the eyes and have led me to read more about this period of history that I knew so little about before. Hey, I can now name Henry VIII’s six wives in order and what happened to them. (BTW, seriously, how odd is it that he had six wives and three were named Catherine? Confusing, much?) While once I would have had to go to the library to gather more information, now I watch an episode of The Tudors and then hop on the Internet to figure out the truth about people like Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon and Henry’s various wives.
First, I saw the wonderful portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I by Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. She is a fabulous actress and made this impressive queen come to life.
Then there was The Other Boleyn Girl, first the movie starring Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, and then the book by Philippa Gregory on which it was based. I enjoyed that book so much that I now have four more of Gregory’s books on order. I plan to read The Constant Princess first, the story of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife.
In recent weeks, I’ve been watching Showtime’s The Tudors on DVD and via streaming video on Netflix. While the series is full of historical inaccuracies, the costuming is wonderful. Scores of beautiful dresses such as this rich red number worn by Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn (hmm, does one have to be named Natalie to play that ill-fated queen?)…
and this regal black ensemble worn by the wonderful actress Maria Doyle Kennedy, who played Katherine of Aragon…
And I simply love this headdress worn by Joss Stone, who plays Anne of Cleaves, Henry’s fourth wife.
Are you a fan of costume dramas? If so, what are some of your favorites? If you were going to a costume party and could dress as any historical figure, who would it be?
Posted in costume dramas, costumes, costuming, Trish Milburn