Fabulous Redheads in Historical Costume Movies

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For Snark Week, Trystan threw down with her list of supposedly bad redheads in historical costume movies. I refuted in the comments, but if she’s going to start something, I’ve got to finish it! So here, my list of fabulous redheads in historical costume movies … in which I shall prove that not only are redheads the best, but they can also save some questionable movies!

Mina Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

We’ve podcasted about this, and I’m pretty sure everyone agrees: Mina is mealy, Lucy is fabulous. Why? Well, Lucy is ready to roll when Dracula comes around, plus, RED HAIR.

redheads in historical costume movies

Real dialogue from the film.

And don’t ask me, ask the Coppola and the movie itself!

redheads in historical costume movies

Actual screenshot from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

Meryl Streep, one of the best actresses of all time. This movie, one of her best. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress. Why? RED HAIR.

redheads in historical costume movies

Has she ever looked more beautiful?

redheads in historical costume movies

One of the Victorian costumes.

Queen Elizabeth I

Everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth the I of England was and remains the best queen of all time. Yes, that’s because she was super smart, badass, and interesting, but it’s also because she has red hair. Pick any on-screen appearance and you will find it only improved by the hair.

redheads in historical costume movies

Cate Blanchett, stunning in Elizabeth (1998). This movie got a lot wrong, but Cate’s portrayal of Elizabeth — and her hair — were not among them.

redheads in historical costume movies

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) had even more problems, but again, was redeemed by Cate Blanchett and her red hair.

redheads in historical costume movies

Even a so/so film, like The Virgin Queen (2005), is improved by red hair on Anne-Marie Duff.

redheads in historical costume movies

Let us all bow down to the great Bette Davis, herself a natural redhead, rocking it as QEI.

Duchesse de Polignac in Marie Antoinette (2006)

Fabulous movie. But are you team Antoinette or team Polignac?

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I’m sorry, what was that you said?

redheads in historical costume movies

NOW you’re talking!

redheads in historical costume movies

Okay so I might have a bit of a Rose Byrne crush.

Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

Probably Nicole Kidman’s best performance ever, with stunning natural form bustle gowns. And let’s look at her character’s hair change over the film:

redheads in historical costume movies

I’m a free spirited, independent, intelligent woman!

redheads in historical costume movies

I’m an abused wife. The patriarchy has me down.

Madeleine in Interview with the Vampire (1994)

This film is a mixed bag, but who is the best dressed, even though she’s only on screen for about 5 minutes? Madeleine!

redheads in historical costume movies

I’ve got the best outfit, so, neener!

Romola Garai

An incredibly talented actress who has done a number of period films. When has she looked her best? When she has red hair, instead of her usual blonde!

redheads in historical costume movies

The Crimson Petal & The White (2011)

redheads in historical costume movies

Admit it, you want everything about this outfit. Amazing Grace (2006)

Speaking of which…

I Capture the Castle (2003)

I’ve raved about this movie, and the book it is based on, before. The lead character, Cassandra, is brilliant. But who has the best look, Cassandra or her sister Rose?

Cassandra sports this look through the entire film

Cassandra sports this look through the entire film.

redheads in historical costume movies

Meanwhile sister Rose starts like this…

redheads in historical costume movies

…and ends like this.

Wives & Daughters (1999)

We don’t hear very much about this anymore, but we should, as this adaptation of the Elizabeth Gaskell novel is REALLY well done. The lead character, Molly (on the right below), is a lovely, sweet, smart girl. But who is the hottie? The best dressed? The one described in the behind-the-scenes info as the Marilyn Monroe character? Why, that’s redheaded Cynthia!

redheads in historical costume movies

I know who I’m taking bar hopping!

Orlando (1992)

What’s one of the most interesting takes on period film in the last few decades? Why, that’s Orlando. Who rocks the house in every era? Why, that’s Tilda Swinton in the title role.

redheads in historical costume movies

Redheaded Renaissance heartthrob.

redheads in historical costume movies

Ginger 18th-century stunner.

redheads in historical costume movies

Tortured Victorian redhead.

The Borgias (2011-2013)

Okay, okay, so blonde Lucrezia Borgia is a stunner in this and her wardrobe is fabulous. Well, so is Giulia Farnese!

redheads in historical costume movies

Redheaded Giulia

redheads in historical costume movies

Bask in that beauty!

An Ideal Husband (1999)

We’ve gushed about this one before. Who is the most conniving and evil, and therefore most interesting? Julianne Moore as Mrs. Cheveley!

redheads in historical costume movies

“Who should I f*$k with today?”

 

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

What is one of the best (if not THE best) modern vintage reproduction movies? That would be Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, in which Amy Adams shines as the consummate screwball comedy queen with strawberry blonde hair:

redheads in historical costume movies

Howards End (1992)

As we know, Helena Bonham Carter was Merchant/Ivory’s muse. When was the one time when she had to play second fiddle to another actress? Howards End, in which Emma Thompson got 1) red hair, 2) the best clothes, and 3) the lead part.

redheads in historical costume movies

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

The podcast that started all of this, in which I gush about Alison Elliott as Millie Theale.

redheads in historical costume movies

Classic Films

It’s not fair, you might say, to only look at modern costume films. What about the classics? What about all the crappy redheads there? Well, I give you:

redheads in historical costume movies

The King & I (1956)

redheads in historical costume movies

Forever Amber (1947)

redheads in historical costume movies

Salome (1953)

But, you say, that’s not enough! Okay, so there are some fabulous redheads in some fabulous movies. The real test would be whether or not a redhead could save a crappy movie! You’re right, so let’s get on it:

Titanic (1997)

The story of the ship was riveting. The shlocky love story, and Leonardo DiCaprio, not so much. What saves this movie were fabulous special effects and Kate Winslet, who managed to take a stupid tween romance and imbue it with some real feeling. All while having fabulous hair.

redheads in historical costume movies

Actual screenshot.

redheads in historical costume movies

Again, actual screenshot. Don’t ask me, ask James Cameron.

Cousin Bette (1998)

A so/so movie. Jessica Lange schemes, but it’s Elisabeth Shue who steals the show as actress/courtesan Jenny — with red hair!

redheads in historical costume movies

Bette/Lange just seems to fade into the background, doesn’t she?

 

Moliere (2007)

Lots of people loved this movie. I am not among them, mostly because I found the story ho hum. But I was particularly irritated by the bad wig on the lead actor. His love interest, however, had great red hair!

redheads in historical costume movies

Personally, I wouldn’t take the trade…

I Could Do This All Day

redheads in historical costume movies

The Last King aka Charles II: The Power & The Passion (2003). Nell Gwyn, best mistress of Chuckie.

redheads in historical costume movies

Geraldine Somerville, most fabulous of four sisters in Aristocrats (1999).

redheads in historical costume movies

The Bostonians (1984). Best hair & costumes on Verena/Madeleine Potter.

redheads in historical costume movies

Cameron Diaz is not a historical movie actress. The only redeeming thing about her in Gangs of New York (2002) was her hair. That might be the ONLY redeeming thing about this movie.

redheads in historical costume movies

Gwyneth Paltrow was just annoying as Emma (1996). Thank god Toni Collette was there to be the comic relief.

redheads in historical costume movies

Moulin Rouge! (2001) was too frenetic and melodramatic. Thankfully we had Nicole Kidman’s red hair to enjoy!

redheads in historical costume movies

The House of Mirth (2000) was too languorous to really engage the audience. Gillian Anderson DID do a great performance, though.

redheads in historical costume movies

Desperate Romantics (2009) got pretty cheesy in its attempts to sex up the Pre-Raphaelites. At least they got a dead ringer for Elizabeth Siddal!

redheads in historical costume movies

Back in the realm of fabulous film/TV, Kitty Butler could have really pissed me off in Tipping the Velvet (2002). Her hair saves her.

redheads in historical costume movies

Who’s the baddest baddy on Game of Thrones? Okay, everyone, but Melisandre ranks near the top!

redheads in historical costume movies

Meridia in Brave (2012) was a badass. And I want her hair.

Besides, If You Really Wanted Crappy Redheads…

You’d talk about strawberry blonde Nicole Kidman in Far & Away (1992)…

redheads in historical costume movies

Maybe we’ll break into a soft shoe dance number? She looks more blonde here, but she’s definitely strawberry.

Or Kim Thompson as Heloise (of “Abelard and” fame) in Stealing Heaven (1998):

redheads in historical costume movies

The bangs! The horror!

redheads in historical costume movies

AND an unfortunate biggins!!

 

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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.

20 Responses

  1. Trystan

    Oh Kendra, you are funny! Esp. how you undercut your own arguments :)

    If anyone wants, they can re-listen to our Dracula & Wings of the Dove podcasts to hear your own complaints about Mina in her terrible lingerie & snake dresses & Titanic (“pedestrian” & “conservative” & I believe you consider Kate Winslet in those beaded evening dresses a big ol’ snooze that red hair can’t save).

    I would have included Nicole Kidman in my writeup bec. she looks pretty bad in most every historical movie she does, but her hair never looks red enough. “Far & Away” was terrible, but strawberry blonde? Weak. I have standards!

    Reply
    • Kendra

      1) IF I said LUCY was crappy in our Dracula podcast, I should have clarified that she was LESS CRAPPY than Mina.

      2) Yes, I said that the COSTUMES in Titanic were pedestrian & conservative when COMPARED to Wings of the Dove. I never said that Kate Winslet didn’t rock, or that she wasn’t the saving grace of that movie.

      Mwah!

      Reply
  2. Bevin

    Mina in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
    We’ve podcasted about this, and I’m pretty sure everyone agrees: Mina is mealy, Lucy is fabulous. Why? Well, Lucy is ready to roll when Dracula comes around, plus, RED HAIR.

    So, shouldn’t the title be Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula?

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Trystan used her in her original “crappy redheads” post, so I was trying to come up with some alternatives! Plus, I refuted in the comments, that since Maureen O’Hara was partially responsible for the original Parent Trap, she can do no wrong!

      Reply
      • Michael

        Maureen O’Hara cant do any wrong! She is a splendid actress and one of the last of the golden age..

        Reply
  3. Kathleen Norvell

    Let us not forget two great redheads from the past: Susan Hayward (Demetrius & the Gladiators — yeah, I know another crappy sandals epic) and The President’s Lady (opposite Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson), and Valerie Hobson (Great Expectations, Blanche Fury). The costumes might have been awful, but the ladies were glorious

    Reply
  4. ctrent29

    Gwyneth Paltrow was just annoying as Emma (1996). Thank god Toni Collette was there to be the comic relief.

    I enjoyed the performances of both actresses. Why do people love bashing Gwyneth Paltrow?

    Reply
  5. Liutgard

    How could you possibly leave out the Weasleys? They are certainly some of the most famous movie redheads! (The fact that I look like Molly has nothing to do with it, I’m sure…)

    Reply
  6. Melanie Clark

    Deborah Kerr in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp–in my opinion her best performance, and she looks amazing as an Edwardian sufferagette.

    It’s fantasy/period, but Moira Shearer in Tale of Hoffmann! Too bad The Red Shoes isn’t period, because the costumes in that film are exceptional, too.

    Reply
  7. veu

    Another very beautiful red haired woman in a costume movie is Glynis Johns as Mary Tudor in “The Sword and the Rose” (1953) . I recommend this movie, it’s gorgeous, with a very beautiful princess and great costumes.

    Reply
  8. Jacqui Gauld

    Good red hair – Christina Hendricks as Joan in Mad Men (I know not truly historical but late 50s/early 60s clothes were quite good).
    Good red hair – Jamie in season one of Outlander (yes, I know it was dyed).
    Truly awful red hair – Jamie in that f…ing horrible wig in seasons three and four of Outlander.

    Reply

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