Beloved Sisters: A German Enlightenment Love Triangle

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I finally got a chance to see Beloved Sisters (2014), the story of the (supposed) love triangle between Romantic-era German writer Friedrich Schiller, his wife Charlotte, and her sister Caroline. Set in the late 18th century (it begins in about 1788) and going through the early 1800s, it’s an interesting story that manages to be romantic, sad, and beautiful all at the same time.

Charlotte and Caroline von Lengefeld are the daughters of a minor aristocratic family that is very literary and Romantic. Charlotte is dutiful and quiet, Caroline is passionate, both are interested in poetry and love and nature, and they adore each other. At the beginning of the film (1786ish), Caroline has been married off to save the family’s fortunes (the father died while the girls were young), and Charlotte is sent off to stay with her aristocratic godmother at the court of Saxe-Weimar in the hopes that she’ll learn court ways and make a good match.

Charlotte hates court life and isn’t successful marriage-wise, but she meets budding poet/philosopher/Renaissance man Friedrich Schiller. When she returns home to her family, Schiller comes to visit, and falls in love with both sisters, who (led by passionate Caroline) encourage this situation. The two sisters are happy to share everything, and Charlotte feels that she owes Caroline because Caroline married a man she can’t stand in order to save the family’s finances.

Eventually, Charlotte marries Friedrich, and then life’s complications ensue…

Beloved Sisters (2014)

I was impressed that they managed to cast an actor who convinced you of Schiller’s sickliness without being too weeny. Usually characters like this aren’t attractive to me, but I could see what the sisters saw in him.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

I liked that the actor playing Caroline’s husband wasn’t 100 years older or hideous. This made it clearer that her objections to him were spiritual/emotional.

At one point, the sisters rescue Schiller from a river — a little girl sees a dog floating past, she goes in after him and starts drowning, and Schiller (who can’t swim) goes in to rescue HER. The focus of the scene is on the saving of Schiller (and the little girl), but WE NEVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG. I know it’s just fiction, but I will spend the rest of my life worrying about that dog.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR POET BOYFRIEND, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG??!!

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I’ll leave it there and get to the good stuff: costumes!

Costumes in Beloved Sisters

Overall, the costumes (designed by Barbara Grupp) were nicely done, if a little casual. The women’s dresses could have used some more petticoats and a bum pad or two, but things weren’t as pared down as the costumes in Poldark. They definitely captured the transition towards Regency wear that happens in the 1790s, although they just went for it a little bit earlier than they should have. However, the casual feeling of the clothing worked well when they were showing the Romantic world that Schiller and the sisters inhabited.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

These two dresses were worn a good deal and very pretty, especially Caroline’s cream gown.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Both are made of nice fabric — rich in the woven pattern, but appropriately light and romantic.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Although clearly they couldn’t afford petticoats or bum pads, because the line of the skirts is just too limp.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

The girls’ mother.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s traveling outfit.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

I like the slightly raised waistline on the jacket with the little tails (although wouldn’t the skirt then be worn a bit higher?).

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s wedding dress. I wish the stomacher weren’t so obviously sewn in.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Sister and mom have nice hats, however!

Where it didn’t work quite so well was when Charlotte was supposed to be at the Weimar court. Now, this is a small German duchy, not Versailles, but there’s a lot of emphasis on how this is Court and how Charlotte hates the artifice of it all. But that doesn’t read so well when the court people are dressed in the same casual, simple style that is worn in the country:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s godmother, Charlotte von Stein, who seems to be Important at Court (looking her up, she was lady-in-waiting to one duchess and very close friends with another). She’s dressed in VERY ho-hum, “I’m just churning some butter” outfits.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

More ho-hum on von Stein.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

A dress Charlotte wears at court. Still no petticoats/bum pads. Here the center front looks like a compere (sewn-in, buttoned) stomacher.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

But here that compere looks more like “my dress didn’t fit, so we sewed in some only-kind-of-matching-fabric to extend things.”

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Another dress Charlotte wears at court.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Another too-obviously-sewn-in stomacher.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte von Kalb, Schiller’s married, aristocratic patron and lover. Her dress is very “meh” to me.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

I liked von Kalb’s dress here better — the addition of some stripes and some lace make it work in a 1780s, casual/romantic way.

There were also some costumes that seemed awfully fashion-forward for 1788-1790ish:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s bonnet, worn in 1788, just screams “Regency” to me.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s white dress (also worn in 1788) — are we really going for that high of a waistline this early?

Later scenes are in the late 1790s and 1800s, so you see the transition into Regency wear:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

High waistline — check. Kinda snoozy — check.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Black silk taffeta with pleats and buttons — now we’re talking!!

Beloved Sisters (2014)

I loved this print on Caroline’s dress.

There was at least one recycled costume from The Duchess, and another that pings my “Haven’t I seen that before?” button:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

This dress, which is very nice for 1788…

Beloved Sisters (2014)

… but could use a few petticoats…

The Duchess (2008)

… is this dress from The Duchess (2008).

Beloved Sisters (2014)

WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS BEFORE? I was thinking it was again from The Duchess, but no dice.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Help me out, people!

Beloved Sisters (2014)

It’s pretty!

There were some good and bad things about the women’s underwear:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Ouchy chafe-y no-chemise-under-stays!

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Ditto! You see more (ahem) of this corset, but I was aiming for non-nipple shots.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Now that I look at the still I can see that this is the same corset (above), but with the straps tucked in. On screen, however, it looked weirdly strapless and therefore Victorian. Also, shagging in a corset without a chemise on underneath: OW.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Nice Regency-era bodiced petticoat on Charlotte!

Caroline got some REALLY good hats:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

THIS HAT. I’d like to put some trim on it, but still — SUCH a great shape. Caroline wears it in a number of scenes, which is A Good Thing.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Always good to put a dramatic veil on things!

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Nice Renaissance revival style, which works well with the ruff.

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Another beauty on Caroline.

Some of the women’s hairstyles were great, and then suddenly they’d get very faux:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

This (1788ish) hairstyle on Caroline was probably my favorite in the film — they got the width around the face right, without sacrificing any tousle. (Image super lightened so you can see the hair)

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s godmother, on the other hand, wears her hair in a weird, half-up/half-down with a little too much fringe around the face ‘do.

There’s a cute scene where the sisters dress up as men, so they can hear Schiller’s first university lecture:

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Charlotte’s buckles (side rolls)!

 

So if you like this era, and you like films that aren’t all bunnies and happiness, check out Beloved Sisters! You’ll be glad you did.

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

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