Cate Blanchett: The Historical Costume Movie Guide

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May 14 was Cate Blanchett’s birthday, so what better time to examine the many fabulous roles she has played in historical costume movies? Since her very earliest turn in Paradise Road, she has continually reminded us that the girl has TALENT. Seriously. She is possibly the greatest actress of her generation. Thankfully, she’s done a lot of period pieces and won an Academy Award in the process!

 

Phase 1: Straight Outta Australia

 

Bordertown (1995)

She Plays: Bianca, a European woman (who happens to be albino) who is living in a refugee camp in post-World War II Australia. That’s all I can really find out about this. Most reviewers seem to think it’s not worth watching.

The Costumes: I got nothing! It was incredibly hard even to find these photos.

1995 Bordertown

I know. These photos shocked me too, Cate.

1995 Bordertown1

Apparently she gets married!

 

Paradise Road (1997)

She Plays: Susan Macarthy, an Australian nurse who (along with many others) is held in a Japanese internment camp in Sumatra during World War II. There are many excellent performances, but Cate is the stand out. I highly recommend this for a moving story and MANY impressive female performances.

The Costumes: It’s an internment camp: Dirt. Rags.

Special Bonus: Strong performances by Jennifer Ehle, Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, and Julianna Margulies. Seriously. Watch this.

PARADISE ROAD, Cate Blanchett, 1997. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved..

Before the dirt and rags and torture and misery…

 

Oscar and Lucinda (1997)

She Plays: Lucinda Leplastrier in a really weird story set in late 19th-century Australia. She’s a an heiress obsessed with glass, Ralph Fiennes is the religious gambler with whom she falls in love. It gets weirder.

The Costumes: Pretty with some interesting touches of dress reform-type outfits on Blanchett.

Special Bonus: Did I mention Ralph Fiennes?

OSCAR AND LUCINDA, Cate Blanchett, 1997. TM and Copyright © Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved..

If you’re an heiress, you kind of HAVE to be a gambler.

1997 Oscar1

Ralph. rrrRRRrrr.

 

Phase 2: Serious Leading Lady

 

Elizabeth (1995)

She Plays: Queen Elizabeth I of England in this attempt at a biopic that gets most of the details wrong, but does still manage to capture the character of Elizabeth. Cate’s performance was STUNNINGLY good.

The Costumes: Weird. Vaguely 16th century, although at least not slutty like The Tudors. Still, the costume designer went way off-book, but without any real logic or theme.

Special Bonus: Christopher Eccleston is a lurking, evil, hot Duke of Norfolk.

1998 Elizabeth4

Young Princess Elizabeth. Don’t ask me about the hair or the sash, I can’t explain them.

1998 Elizabeth1

Hey, at least they got the coronation gown right!

 

An Ideal Husband (1995)

She Plays: Lady Gertrude Chiltern, the wife of Jeremy Northam’s politician character. She’s got very high expectations of her husband, which creates problems when an old friend who Knows Things comes back to town.

The Costumes: Stunning 1890s gowns — this is probably my favorite film set in this era!

Special Bonus: Jeremy Northam and Rupert Everett are hot hot, Minnie Driver is cute, Julianne Moore is fabulously evil, and the Oscar Wilde-derived script sparkles.

1999 An Ideal Husband

Love all the pleating on that bodice.

1999 An Ideal Husband1

SO beautiful.

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1995)

She Plays: Meredith Logue, an American heiress who gets entangled into Matt Damon’s issues in 1950s Europe.

The Costumes: Fabulous 1950s swank!

Special Bonus: Jude Law is hot hot hot, and Gwyneth Paltrow actually doesn’t annoy me.

1999 still-of-cate-blanchett-in-the-talented-mr.-ripley-(1999)-large-picture

Howdy! I’m your second-rate Gwyneth Paltrow, aren’t I?

1999 The-Talented-Mr-Ripley-Suit-Matt-Damon

“I’m rich, you’re rich, what could go wrong? Honey? Hello?”

 

The Man Who Cried (2000)

She Plays: Lola, a sophisticated Russian singer who befriends Christina Ricci’s character (a Jewish refugee) in 1930s Paris. It’s a weird movie, but not bad per se.

The Costumes: Cate’s hair rocks.

Special Bonus: Johnny Depp as a mysterious Gypsy performer.

2000 The Man Who Cried

“My name is Lola. I am Russian refugee dancer. Hear me roll my R’s.”

2000 The Man Who Cried1

You know you want that hair.

 

The Lord of the Rings trilogy & The Hobbit (2001-2014)

She Plays: Galadriel, an elven queen, in the ultimate fantasy trilogy.

The Costumes: Very pretty faux-medieval elf gowns!

galadriel18

Elf queen is elven!

 

Charlotte Gray (2001)

She Plays: Charlotte Gray, a Scottish woman who is sent to France as an undercover resistance fighter during World War II. The source book is great, this adaptation manages to cheese things up.

The Costumes: Really great 1940s wear, even if Cate/Charlotte is awfully well done-up for wartime Europe.

2001 cate_blanchett_charlotte_gray_001

NICE hat.

2001 cate_blanchett_charlotte_gray_002

Just your average Frenchwoman under the Nazi occupation.

 

The Missing (2003)

She Plays: Magdalena Gilkeson, who enlists her estranged father in rescuing her daughter, who has been kidnapped by Native Americans in late 19th-century New Mexico.

The Costumes: I haven’t seen this one, because how much dusty calico can one look at?

Cate Blanchett. © 2004 Sony Pictures Television International. All Rights Reserved.

“Hmm. I’m thinking we need more dirt.”

2003 The Missing1

“Now honey, don’t cry. At least mommy has her hair up!”

 

The Aviator (2004)

She Plays: Katharine Hepburn in this Howard Hughes biopic. She justifiably won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance — she just NAILS Katharine Hepburn.

The Costumes: Glamour, glamour, glamour!

Special Bonus: Kate Beckinsale as a gorgeous Ava Gardner and oodles of Old Hollywood glamour.

2004 the-aviator1

Showing Katharine’s more casual style.

2004 the-aviator3

But bringing the GLAM when it’s needed!

 

The Good German (2006)

She Plays: Lena Brandt, a Jewish woman who managed to survive World War II Berlin by doing whatever she had to. George Clooney shows up and various mysteries unfold in this black and white film noir.

The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen, sadly! What I’ve seen in photos looks good.

2006 The Good German

Sparkly!

2006 The Good German4

SO noir.

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

She Plays: Queen Elizabeth I of England in the sequel to Elizabeth (1998). It’s more of the same, this time focusing on Elizabeth’s relationship with a sadly scruffy Sir Walter Raleigh and the whole Spanish Armada thang. As before, Cate’s stunning performance outweighs all the history that the film gets wrong.

The Costumes: A more stylized, weirder version of the first film’s randomness.

Special Bonus: It SHOULD be Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, but see again re: overly scruffy.

2007 Elizabeth_The_Golden_Age6

About to give the Tilbury speech, in full, bifurcated armor. Still, she looks great!

2007 Elizabeth_The_Golden_Age1

One of the better gowns. I can’t explain the feathers though.

 

Phase 3: Mixing It Up

 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

She Plays: Irina Spalko, eeeevil Russian KGB agent and Indiana’s nemesis in this Cold War adventure.

The Costumes: Lots of grey stretch fabrics, but Cate’s severe bob haircut rocks!

2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 1

“Again, I play Russian! This time, I shoot you with guns!”

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

She Plays: Daisy, a ballerina who falls in love with a man who lives his life backwards, age-wise.

The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen! The premise just seems so twee.

2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2

I mean, it’s Brad Pitt. Who is born an old man and dies a baby. It just seems so Nicholas Sparks.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Cate does look great, but then she always does.

 

Robin Hood (2010)

She Plays: Marion Loxley, proto-feminist medieval lady in this attempt at making a Serious Film about Robin Hood.

The Costumes: Very earthy and Serious. Few hairpins were used in the making of this movie.

2010 Robin Hood 1

I’m so not sure about the corset-y thing.

Film Title: Robin Hood

Much more plausible, although doing something with the hair would be nice.

 

The Monuments Men (2014)

She Plays: Claire Simone, an art curator in occupied France who helps the American army rescue artworks from the Nazis.

The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen!

DF- 00566.NEF

Glasses = smart, right?

2014 The Monuments Men

Can I have this kitchen?

 

Cinderella (2015)

She Plays: Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s eeee-vil stepmother in this recent live-action retelling of the classic fairytale.

The Costumes: Faaaaabulous 1940s/1890s mashups, with Cate/Lady Tremaine getting ALL the best wardrobe. Evil, evil glam.

Special Bonus: SHE’S A VILLAIN WHO HAS A CAT. ON A LEASH.

2015 cinderella1

If I were the prince, I’d run off with Lady Tremaine! I mean, hot damn!

2015 cinderella3

SO EVIL. SO GLAM. SO GOOD.

 

What’s the Next Cate Blanchett Historical Costume Movie?

Cate has a couple of films announced or in-production, only one of which has a historical setting:

 

Carol (2015)

She Plays: Carol Aird. Here’s the vague plot summary: “In 1950s New York, a young woman in her 20s working as a department-store clerk falls for an older, married woman.” Cate must be the older, married woman?

2015 Carol2

I admire anyone who can pull off that neckline without looking like they are lactating.

2015 Carol

Lovely wide 1940s lips.

 

What’s your favorite Cate Blanchett historical costume movie role? Do you dare dispute that she is one of the greatest actresses currently working?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

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.

6 Responses

  1. Michael L. McQuown

    My fave is still “Robin Hood,” or as I like to think of it, “How the Aussies Saved England.” Out of the 11 major cast members, only 2 were born in England, and one of those, Mark Strong, has European parents. I love Cate kicking butt and taking names in reasonably authentic armour. If you want snarky, check out some of the comments on female armour over in the Enfinges FB page, plus pretty much the rest of the HEMA community. The boys (and girls) can get pretty vitriolic where their toys are concerned.

    Reply
  2. LadySlippers

    Cate must have a clause in all her contracts that says — I need to look absolute fantastic or I ain’t doing it. Even when they get historical crap wrong (including costumes and makeup) it still somehow works — it comes across as artistic licence and not just buffoonery. That’s talent and clout! ☺️

    Reply

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