Costume Drama

The Forsyte Saga season 2 is incredibly disappointing (ABC, Sundays at 8.30pm). There’s no doubt that season one was soapy — but it was good soapy. Season 2 is just boring and listless and full of characters behaving out of character.
To make matters worse the costumes make me cry out “and what is THAT?” every time a new one is strutted across the screen.

These are upper class English folks who would have been wearing the best there was of the era. At best the dresses look badly fitted and at worst some of the costumes are just plain U.G.L.Y. Almost all of the suits look like they were found in an op-shop (or at the back of ITV’s costume wardrobe) and the dresses and hats are awkward and unflattering. Perhaps they were captured from the pages of 1930s fashion catalogues and are historically accurate but that’s no excuse for clothes that make the most beautiful heroines (both old and young) look frumpy and mismatched and the (unfortunately rather wet) heroes look like they have grown out of their suits.

I love a good costume drama — and often costume is the operative word for me.

The Gangs of New York is a film that I would watch again just for the costumes (certainly not for the rambling story line). We got the DVD out a month or so ago and most interesting (for me at least) was the short featurette about the costume design and production. Fabulous fabrics and detailed research. Sandy Powell was the designer heading the team behind the 7000+ costumes required for the movie and her vision was brilliant. After a IMBD search I find that Sandy Powell is also the designer behind the costumes in Shakespeare in Love and Orlando. I also see that she has done the costumes for a film called Sylvia starring Gweneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath!

“There’s a beauty in dirt” [She says,] “When I go to the movies, I think, Why is that dress so clean? The boat is going down and they look perfect. You want to have beauty in a film, but if something looks a bit worn, a bit soiled, it usually has more depth.” From a great Salon article about her work.

I am looking forward to seeing what wondrous frocks come out of her imagination for The Aviator — Cate Blanchette plays Katherine Hepburn to Leo Caprio’s Howard Hughes.

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23 Responses

  1. says:

    K-Lo, I am so envious about your millinary course! I studied millinery about 18 years ago (yikes!) and had a great teacher who taught us only couture hand sewing techniques, but I would love to do a refresher with someone really top class. I only really get to use my skills for myself and friends these days, and mostly for historical costuming. (Although I did once make a Melbourne Cup hat for a drag queen which won a competition, but that is WHOLE other story…)
    BTW I did really like the white hat with cut outs in the brim that was on the last episode of The Forsyte Saga.

  2. says:

    I heartily agree, the second season of the Forsyte saga isn’t a patch on the first.
    Did you ever watch the English series “The House of Elliot”? About two English sisters set-up there own couture house in the twenties/thirtes in London. A bit of a soap opera also but with really fab frocks and hats! Interesting piece of trivia, the hats were all made by an Australian milliner.

  3. says:

    I also agree! I ended up turning the channel to watch the spooky stuff about the Easey Street murders. Certainly NOT something to do whilst home alone!!

  4. I do remember vaguely the House of Elliot, Andrew. I would love to see that again! off to do some google searching.

  5. says:

    You have me hooked on Samorost. And now I’m stuck on the screen with the woodpecker and the owl and the squirrel in the tree. It’s making me sad.

  6. says:

    Hey, love you site, but never have gotten the chance to write. Anyways, thought it spells “Blanchett”, without the “e”.

  7. says:

    Claire,I don’t know if you like French & Saunders, but they did a wonderful satire of the “House of Elliot” called “The House of Idiot” on one of their shows. It even included a walk-on by the two real actresses they were lampooning. Very amusing.

  8. I missed the last episode, but I did enjoy the costumes in the previous one, but then I do love post-war to 1930s fashion. One thing to remember is that in every era, people get carried away by fads, and wear things that are very fashionable but not very flattering.

  9. Sandy Powell also did the costumes for many of Derek Jarman’s films mainly Cavaraggio, The Tempest, Edward II. Also well worth checking out.

  10. says:

    I think that to our eyes the styles of the late 20’s early 30’s do look frumpish to us but only because its not a fashionable sillhouete now. They are pretty accurate. And as a fashion student, I can appreciate them and i think theyre beautiful…Andrew, the milliner who did the House of Eliot is called Rosie Boylan. I know because I am doing a course with her at the moment. She also did Moulin Rouge among screeds of others…

  11. I loved the bonus features on the “Gangs of New York” more than the actual film really – I wish I had a good excuse to dress in clothes from that era!

  12. says:

    Samorost is great. You gotsta persevere but you just HAVE TO get that wee man to where he wants to go! I love that slurpy ol’ anteater too. And now, having got him back to his Mystic Mossy Space Stump, I retire to my own.

  13. says:

    many thanks for the Samorost link — two boys and me’s been very happy to think and click and help that little guy. of course, the nine-year-old knew where to click within seconds!

  14. k-lo – do you really think that’s what it is? I also have a big love of post war fashion but still can’t love or even like the Forsyte’s take on it – but I am not a fashion student so I am willing to concede that it might be my untrained eye. But I found Gosford Park, for example, to be much more pleasing when it came to the 1930s fashion. I realise that Gosford Park would have had a huge budget to play with compared to a TV mini-series but the costumes were beautiful in comparison. Your point has made me wonder if Gosford Park was perhaps less historically correct and designed more for a new millennium audience and also made me wonder if we will we look back on it in 20 years time and gawk at how “2000s” it looks as we might these days with some 1970s period drama where the heroines have huge fake eyelashes, blue eye shadow but and “old fashioned” dress. Is The Forsyte’s truer to the era and will therefore be less dateable as a television show? What do you think?

  15. I am quite partial to Futuristic costuming…the work Trisha Biggar’s did on Star Wars Ep 1 (and others) for example is just so beautiful.I think that people of the past very much like today wore what they could afford and what was available and in costume design (TV Film or Theater) you live by that and use whatever your budget will allow.

    Its all about fabrics and budgets whatever your time and place isnt it?

  16. I’m a fan of the costumes used in the huge series of P&P. Never seen anything more beautiful than Lizzy and Jane’s costumes.

  17. says:

    But, but I’ve tried and tried and I can’t get past that darn tree with the squirrel in it. I can get rid of all the worms with the wood pecker. And I can make his little capsule shake. And I can get the squirrel to take his hands away from his ears. That’s about it. Sigh..

  18. ooh, samorost is good fun. eliza, i don’t remember exactly how to deal with the squirrel, but if you hold down “tab,” it may be of some help.

  19. I love the Forsyte 2 costumes – they’re the best bit! I think they are very art nouveau and match Robin Hill beautifully. However it is dull and nasty Fleur is nasty. The only tasty hero died last week so it’s over for me (although I rarely like a moustache, it worked on Jolyon)

  20. s@y.c.a says:

    Ooh I worked it out! It was woooonderful!

  21. says:

    I agree that the costumes on Gosford Park are gorgeous – much more glamourous! But Forsyte is set in 1926, and Gosford in 1932. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but its enough (just think what you were wearing in 1996…) By 1932 the bias cut had been rediscovered and had influenced fashion a great deal. In the late 20’s the style was boxy and drop waisted, while the bias cut of the 30’s was much more shapely and flattering. Also Forsyte is more naturalistic and often set in the daytime whereas Gosford is more theatrical and set at a decadent dinner party. I think they are both quite historically correct, but they are very different pieces and so it is difficult to directly compare them. It is also possible, like you said, that Gosford Park might have been ‘modernised’ to suit our sensibilities, but mostly I think it comes down to the different settings and styles. Does this make sense?

  22. says:

    Oooh. I haven’t watched the 2nd series of Forsytes, but have just finished reading the book – which is fabulous! Really entertaining and gives so much more depth to the characters, often the case with book vs TV/movie I guess. I definitely recommend it.

  23. says:

    Robin Hill just blew me away. Such Frank Lloyd Wright – American Arts and Crafts. The decor was stunning. ALthough the house was American there was extensive use of English Art Nouveau, such as Baillee Scott and Moorcroft. A period I truly love. I thought Irene was wearing pre-raphaelite gowns – something I don’t imagine you’d find in the 1930’s. Real Liberty and Co stuff, which was pretty rad around the turn of the centure. Correct me if I’m wrong.