Costume Designer Rosalind Ebbutt: The Frock Flicks Guide

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I’m fascinated by writing these costume designer guide posts, because while I’d say I pay more attention to “who is the designer?” than the average viewer, I don’t always connect between particular productions. Since costume designers aren’t on screen themselves, it can be hard to answer the proverbial “where do I know that name from?” question.

Rosalind Ebbutt sadly hasn’t gotten a lot of press until very recently, when she took over from James Keast on Victoria. So while I usually pepper these guides with a lot of quotes from the designer on their work, I’ve had to scrape the bottom of the barrel here! But I think that barrel scraping is worth it, given Ebbutt’s magnificent work on The BuccaneersThe Tenant of Wildfell HallVanity Fair (1998), and the most recent Emma — as well as two of the “house party” series!

 

A Dark Adapted Eye (1994)

An early World War II TV movie starring Helena Bonham Carter.

A Dark Adapted Eye

 

The Buccaneers (1995)

Amaze-balls 1870s costumes in this Edith Wharton adaptation.

Director Philip Saville: “The clothes worn by the women were coloured with these wonderfully vivid vegetable dyes. They were constantly trying to out-do each other with their costumes. I am not trying deliberately to inform the audience that they are watching a piece of classic literature. I would like to think that viewers are actually looking in on the people who lived in the big houses of the time.” (Confessions of an unfaithful TV director)

The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995) The Buccaneers (1995)

 

Poldark (1996)

Nope, not the Poldark you’re thinking of, but an earlier attempt to reboot the 1975 series.

1996 Poldark

 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves, and Toby Stephens star in this Anne Bronte adaptation set in the 1830s.

1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1997)

An adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel featuring Samantha Morton.

“You can’t take short cuts in costume drama. There’s a lot of work involved in making things look old, so it’s good to recycle old costumes. I buy old sheets to make shirts and I use a lot of old curtains. I go to antiques fairs and to various dealers who specialise in certain textiles. All the lacing and embroidery for Tom Jones (set between 1725 and 1745) is real — no Velcro or poppers. On film, if the costumes aren’t done properly, it shows. The higher up the body, the closer the close-up.” (Tricks of the Trade, 8: How to Give a 20th-Century Actress an 18th-Century Figure)

1997 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling 1997 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling 1997 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

 

Vanity Fair (1998)

One of the better adaptations of the Thackeray novel. Regency England, Napoleonic Wars, and the classic schemer Becky Sharp!

1998 Vanity Fair 1998 Vanity Fair 1998 Vanity Fair 1998 Vanity Fair 1998 Vanity Fair 1998 Vanity Fair

 

Oliver Twist (1999)

Charles Dickens, set in the 1830s, with Keira Knightley and Sophia Myles, both early in their careers.

Oliver Twist (1999) Oliver Twist (1999)

 

Anna Karenina (2000)

The classic Tolstoy novel, with Helen McCrory in the lead role and set in the 1880s.

“I got my inspiration for the dress design from examining Anna’s state of mind throughout the course of the novel. At the beginning, she is unhappily married to Karenin and therefore wears black. When she finds happiness with Vronsky, we see her in light colours. At the end, she is drugged up and in despair, so I designed the striking red dress to represent the red of opium poppies.” (“Location, location;
Anna Karenina,” Mail on Sunday, May 7, 2000).

Anna Karenina 2000

 

Conspiracy (2001)

Kenneth Branagh and Nazis galore!

2001 Conspiracy

 

Manor House (2002)

AKA “Edwardian Country House” in the U.S. One of those reality shows putting modern people into historical life.

2002 Manor House

 

Servants (2003)

Felicity Jones starred in this 1850s-set, downstairs-focused BBC series.

 

2003 servants 2003 servants

 

The Regency House Party (2004)

Another “house” reality series — remember all the OPINIONS we all had about this one?

2004 Regency House Party 2004 Regency House Party

 

To the Ends of the Earth (2005)

Benedict Cumberbatch! JJ Feild! Regency-era British navy!

2005 To the Ends of the Earth 2005 To the Ends of the Earth 2005 To the Ends of the Earth

 

Emma (2009)

Another strong adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, with Romola Garai in the title role.

“I started off with the idea that this was a Georgian oil painting, using really strong Georgian colors… ” Emma’s Costumes – Behind the Scenes of Emma, 2009

Emma (2009) Emma (2009) 2009 Emma

 

Downton Abbey Season 2 (2011)

I KNOW I don’t have to blurb this one!

“Matthew, as an officer, would have his uniform made by his own tailor. In full dress he wears a shirt with a soft collar and tie, breeches, a service tunic that has buttons embossed with his cavalry regiment crest, field boots with laces and a Sam Browne belt, which is worn across the chest and around the waist.” (WWI Wednesday: The Uniform of a British Soldier)

Downton Abbey

 

The Mill (2013)

Real-life and fictional characters working at a textile mill between 1838-42.

“Garments would be mended or altered as necessary, as sewing was a widespread skill among most women. Girls were taught it alongside basic numeracy and literacy in schools, such as those set up by Hannah Greg. Alternatively, the garments could be cut up and remade at home, or very occasionally made new from inexpensive fabric, using simple shapes and techniques. The materials used would be linen, cotton or wool. There were basic styles and shapes of country clothing which remained unaffected by fashion well into the 19th century. Clothes worn by the poor would therefore always appear old-fashioned in cut and shape, and it was indeed considered presumptions or morally dubious to appear too fashionable. Only the better-off, such as the Gregs or James Windell, have clothes dating from 1838 onwards, when Series Two begins.” (A Historical Background to The Mill, Series 2)

2013 The Mill 2013 The Mill 2013 The Mill

 

Victoria (2016-17)

Jenna Coleman, Queen Victoria, etc.!

“I aimed to remain true and historically accurate, while not losing the narrative sweep of her storytelling. Her characters range from Victoria, played by Jenna Coleman, and her main relatives and courtiers, and of course Albert, played by Tom Hughes, to various politicians and other contemporary notables. There is plenty of reference for them, but also one wants to make them believable as people, and for the actor to be happy in the costume, and feel right as the character.” (Victoria’s Costume Designer Shares a Sneak Peek of the New Series)

“Victoria wrote a lot about it in her diary, about how she wanted to dress in white and look more like a real woman and less like a queen. She wrote about the orange blossom and the fact that Prince Albert gave her a beautiful brooch. She wanted to really be an English bride. We were able to source a lot of things, silk that was very similar to the one Victoria wore, lace made by English lacemakers in Honiton. Victoria was very keen that everything would be from her country and made by an English dressmaker, so it would look like she was head of her people. The wedding dress was the one thing we knew how it would look so it was a longer drawn out process. Sometimes we had to get things done in a week or so but we had more than several weeks which was great. We actually made the bridesmaids dresses based on her own drawings in her diary. We had eight bridesmaids and we fitted all of them, we did a long beautiful train and choreographed how they would carry it.” (Jenna Coleman’s Victoria costume designer reveals all about corsets, prosthetic baby bumps and that wedding dress)

Jenna Coleman, Victoria (2017) VICTORIA (2017) VICTORIA (2017) 'Victoria' TV show - 2016

 

What’s your favorite of Rosalind Ebbutt’s historical costume movie and TV designs?

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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.

3 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    Nope, not the Poldark you’re thinking of, but an earlier attempt to reboot the 1975 series.

    Actually, the 1996 TV movie was an attempt to continue the “POLDARK” series with an adaptation of Winston Graham’s first Poldark novel from the 1980s.

    Reply
  2. Nzie

    Ooooh, I didn’t even think about there being a designer on Manor House, which, duh, of course! I love that show… I have the DVDs. :-) The change from the relatively middle class values main family to essentially “but I give them work!” husband and the doctor wife following along, fascinating. The servants were a mix of personalities, generally interesting, and I just wanted to hug Mr. Edgar, which would probably have made him mildly uncomfortable in the best old fashioned way.

    Regency House Party on the other hand… what a disaster.

    Reply
  3. Charity

    Quality work.

    Had a couple of my sewing friends over a few weeks ago to work on a Regency gown together and we binge-watched Victoria and gushed over the costumes — her purple gown in particular is absolutely exquisite…

    Reply

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