Tag Archives: costumes in film

Desperate Romantics (2009) – A Review

6 May

I’ll start off this post by saying I absolutely loved ‘Desperate Romantics‘ – a period drama set in Victorian London which revolves around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; their art, lives, loves and scandals.

WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009***

First glimpse of Desperate Romantics, from left to right; Rafe Spall as a somewhat austere perfectionist William Holman Hunt, also known as ‘Maniac’, Aidan Turner as the dashing Byronic Hero, ‘half-Italian, half-mad’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Samuel Barnett as a child-prodigy, sweet and bewildered John Everett Millais, and lastly Sam Crane as the gentle, caring and ‘always-in-the-shadow-of-others’ Fred Walters; a composite character mainly based on Fred Stevens and several other historical figures who serves as a journalist and a diarist of the brotherhood.

I found the actors and actresses wonderful and perfectly suitable for their roles. Every character has an individualised personality and that is one of the main reasons this period drama is so brilliant. This emphasis on individual personality traits, be it good or bad ones, helps a great deal to understand the artworks they produced. Their choice of subjects seems so natural after understanding their characters. For example, the strong-willed and religious Hunt would never go on painting sensual women or characters from Roman mythology, and likewise it’s inconceivable that Rossetti would ever paint anything similar to The Light of the World.

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Brooding Rossetti and his sorrowful muse

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I very much enjoyed how relatable everyone seemed. Their conversations and jokes in the pub sounded beautifully modern. Pre-Raphaelites smoked hashish, consumed opium, flirted with waitresses and visited brothels. In several scenes you can even see Charles Dickens himself entertaining the ‘ladies’. After watching this, I feel like the Victorian world wasn’t as grim and proper as presented, perhaps in the higher classes but not amongst artists and intellectuals.

In Desperate Romantics Featurette (you can watch it on YouTube) actors and actresses talk about their roles and opinions of the PRB. I found it especially thrilling how Rafe Spall connected the members of the Brotherhood to modern artists and writers. He made a parallel with the Beat Generation and compared Fred Walters to Jack Kerouac, Millais to Neal Cassady, Rossetti to Allen Ginsberg and Hunt to William Burroughs. Also, he compared the radical avant-garde quality of the brotherhood to Punk Rock, and he described the make-up and hairstyle of Annie Miller (Hunt’s girfriend and model) as being Vivienne Westwood-esque.

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DESPERATE ROMANTICS

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal

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I’m afraid that costumes are a great factor for me, and in Desperate Romantics it was yet another source of enjoyment. As you can see from the pictures I’ve assembled here, dresses worn by Lizzie Siddal are very simple and romantic, made of printed cotton in earthy colours, no corsets or crinolines. Along with her long flowing coppery hair, she looks more like a Medieval maiden than a Victorian lady. Apart from a few bonnets, everything seemed historically accurate. Men’s attire was interesting as well, which is unusual because it tends to be boring and grey. Millais is a true peacock, usually wearing scarlet-coloured velvet jackets and lots of purples and greens. Rossetti is very flamboyant but more sophisticated, he wears loose, half-unbuttoned shirts and vibrant coloured scarves. Fred is all simple and proper, true mama’s boy and Hunt is dressed according to his reserved nature, but after his trip to the East, he starts growing a beard, smoking hashish straight from Syria and dressing with a touch of East just like The Rolling Stones when then discovered Marocco.

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First love couple: Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt and Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller

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I’ve read some complaints about the lack of art in the series and I highly disagree. Exhibition of Millais’ Ophelia, an important moment for the PRB, was well presented and so was the moment when Rossetti found his new direction in portraying pure womanly sensuality after an encounter with Fanny Cornforth. Millais, Rossetti, Hunt and Fred are often seen visiting the Royal Gallery, even objecting the mainstream Victorian art, Rossetti said: The Academy’s utter disgust is what gets us all out of bed in the morning‘, continuing Where is the naturalism, where is the life, the flesh, the blood, the nature?’ When Hunt comes back from his trip, he also showcases his paintings, and after Lizzie dies we see grief stricken Rossetti painting Beata Beatrix. We see Rossetti painting Jane Morris and the murals in a nearby church, and Lizzie painting as well. Is this not enough art?

In Desperate Romantics we are presented by something even more important than ‘art’, we see the background of their artworks and everything that went on in their personal lives and the way it reflected on their works. The series captured the mood of the Brotherhood and I think that’s not only more interesting, but more important. Anyone can simply google their paintings, but it takes a lot more to understand them.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal as Victorian era Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull

INTERESTING QUOTES:

“We are artists, we thrive on strong emotions.” (Elizabeth Siddal, ep 5)

“We cannot confuse our feeling about the artist with the art, that would leave us only able to admire works of those we like.” (John Ruskin, ep 3)

“I insists it’s the most noble profession there is. An artist only records beauty, but a model radiates it. If I were Millais, oh, I would paint you in a pure white silk dress.” (Rossetti’s opinion on modelling and words directed to Jane Burden)

“I find the modern world the most random and confusing place.” (Millais, ep 3)

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Love couple number 3: Millais and Effie as Victorian version of Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg

A only have a few objections. Firstly, I’d love to have seen Rossetti’s family because his sister Christina was a poet and his brother William Michael also belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Secondly, no mention of Lizzie’s stillborn child and that was something that deeply saddened her and ultimately led to her death. Thirdly, too many sex scenes which was tasteless and unnecessary in my opinion. It’s obvious that Rossetti wasn’t celibate. Perhaps a hint of intimacy would be more interesting than seeing Rossetti jump on every redhead in London.

All in all, I loved Desperate Romantics – escapism into the bohemian circles of Victorian era London. It’s beyond inspiring, the story itself is enigmatic and interesting, actors were brilliant, thoroughly recommend it! There are six episodes, each is one hour long. If you can spare six hours of your life, I sincerely recommend you to do that.

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Films with Brilliant Costumes

24 Apr

Two Aprils ago, I wrote a similar post. As expected, I watched a lot of films in the mean time. Costumes in films are an interesting topic, and I’m afraid they tend to captivate my attention quite a lot. This list is rather different then the previous one, which consisted mostly of period dramas set in Georgian and Victorian era.

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1. Factory Girl (2006)

‘Poor little rich girl’, Edie Sedgwick, led a short, but turbulent and glamorous life. In Factory Girl she was portrayed by Sienna Miller, I loved her performance. Her look is equally alluring as unattainable – gold and silver mini-dresses, Beatnik-style no-trousers-look with black tights and kitten-heel boots, large earrings, cigarette and an amethyst ring. Regrettably, Edie’s chic ’60s wardrobe is more suitable for Andy Warhol’s Factory, than for a lifestyle of a schoolgirl like me.

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2. Lolita (1962)

Despite the film’s subject being more or less controversial, the clothes that Sue Lyon wears are rather nice, and I’m not even a fan of 1950s fashion. Thanks to Bern Stern’s publicity photos of Sue Lyon wearing heart-shaped sunglasses, they became a symbol for nymphets (both the book and film), even thought in the film Lolita wears only the simple cat sunglasses. I think Sue Lyon was brilliant as Lolita. She seems so mature considering that she was only 14 years old by the time filming started.

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3. Eight Miles High (2007)

This is a biographical film about the life of a West German groupie Uschi Obermaier played by Natalie Avalon. Appropriately, the clothes Uschi wears are in tune with the late ’60s and 70s fashion, which means plenty of mini skirts, sequins, messy bed-hair, gypsy skirts, jeans… Uschi’s life was really wild, and she had a wardrobe to accompany it.

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4. Darling (1965)

Interested in what an elegant lady climbing up the social ladder, in 1965 London, would be wearing? Well, you should watch Julie Christie in Darling. A very classic, elegant 1960s style with chic tweed suits, long evening dresses with sequins, kerchiefs, skirts with knee socks. I’d call this film a portrait of London’s society in the mid 1960s.

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Michelle Pfeiffer as Léa de Lonval in CHERI 3

5. Cheri (2009)

Michelle Pfeiffer plays a retired courtesan in this costume drama set in La Belle Epoque. Her costumes are so evocative of fin de siecle; wide-brimmed hats, roses, black gloves, silks, beautiful silks, white lace and pearls. Michelle Pfeiffer must have signed a deal with the devil because she doesn’t seem to age, she’s still simply drop dead gorgeous.

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6. Irma La Douce (1963)

Another charming courtesan, Irma La Douce, played by Shirley MacLaine, in a comedy set in 1960s Paris. Irma is mad about green colour, and her costumes prove that. She often wears a black skirt with green stockings, green shirt, green bow in her hair, green eyeshadow, even a green bra.

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7. Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)

Anna Karina’s vivid red and blue outfits in ‘A Woman is a Woman’, perfectly match the grey backdrop of Paris. And the costumes are just one tiny bit of this film’s brilliance. I confess, I’ve been very keen on colourful tights ever since I first watched this film, I have them in all colours.

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8. Dark Shadows (2012)

I’ve always wondered how would Tim Burton mix ‘Victorian Gothic’ and Psychedelic aesthetics, and this film answered my question. I already wrote a post for itself discussing costumes and my opinion about this film, so I’ll quote myself: I can imagine myself having Carolyn’s bedroom; a psychedelic style decorated room with yellow carpet, vivid purple walls covered with posters of Iggy Pop and various other musicians of the time. It’s very bright, groovy, colourful and inspirational. I really loved the fact that every character has its own distinct style.

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9. Little Dorrit (2008)

This adaptation of Dickens’ novel is set in the 1820s, thought it has that doll-like 1830s vibe in some costumes, specially those worn by Fanny Dorrit. You can see her costume in the photo, on the left: that extravagant hairstyle with feathers, lace mittens, and wide sleeves – quite a theatrical flair about her character.

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10. An Education (2009)

A film about a bored schoolgirl who meets a charming (and married) man who introduces her to a life of luxuries, parties, art auctions. Carey Mulligan plays this little modern Emma Bovary, and her quote says it all: ‘You have no idea how boring everything was before I met you.’ Most of the film she wears her school uniform, but when she goes out in the evenings she’s clad in classic and elegant 1960s style.

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11. A Little Chaos (2014)

This is the most recent film from this I’ve watched, starring Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. Winslet is dressed rather plain throughout the film because she’s a gardener, but there one scene near the end, at the court, where everyone’s dressed in late 17th century/ Restoration era finery. Cream coloured silks, lace, wide sleeves, and the hairstyle are so romantic and carefree.

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12. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Vivian Leigh as a withered Southern Belle with fragile nerves who doesn’t want ‘realism, but magic’, and is always dressed in fine silks, lace and fur, adorned by the finest perfume, of course never in the daylight because it would reveal her true age and looks. I so empathise with her.

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1938. Bette Davis in 'Jezebel' (1938) 1

13. Jezebel (1938)

This film, starring the beautiful Bette Davis, is a proof that rustling of taffeta petticoats and silks skirts is the sweetest sound in the world. I thought the plot and the ending were a bit vague, but costumes absolutely delighted me.

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Have you a film you’d add on the list?