Helena Bonham Carter: The Historical Costume Movies

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Nowadays, Keira Knightley is probably the actress who is most associated with costume movies, but rewind about a decade, and it’s all Helena Bonham Carter. Petite; wild, curly, dark hair; and an intensity that’s been there from the beginning. Here is our exhaustive list of every single one of the Helena Bonham Carter costume movie roles:

 

Phase 1: Merchant/Ivory Dream Girl

A Room With a View (1985)

She Plays: Lucy Honeychurch, proper young upper-middle-class Edwardian English rose, with a dash of relatable tomboy. She heads to Florence with her spinster aunt (the hilarious Maggie Smith) and meets a boy who rocks her world, but she’s not sure if he’s the RIGHT sort of boy…

The Costumes: It’s Merchant/Ivory, designed by Beaven & Bright, what more need I say? The absolute pinnacle of historical accuracy AND good design. It’s enough to make you want to rock the pigeon-fronted silhouette, and that’s saying something.

Special Bonus: Gorgeous Italian and English countryside, Judi Dench as an OTT dramatic novelist, Daniel Day-Lewis as the prig to end all prigs, and cute naked boys romping in a pond.

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Frilly froof!

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Hot boy, Tuscan field, what’s not to love?

Why yes, this IS a damn cute outfit.

“Why yes, this IS a damn cute outfit.”

It's hard to make out when you're wearing a veil.

It’s hard to make out when you’re wearing a veil.

Can't... hold... head... up.... under.... weight... of... hair...

“Can’t… hold… head… up…. under…. weight… of… hair…”

Lady Jane (1986)

She Plays: Lady Jane Grey, famous 16th-century nine days queen. She’s smart and principled without being priggish, she gets to brood and fall in love, and her parents are big meanies. Plus, she gets to be queen for nine whole days!

The Costumes: REALLY well done Tudor era costumes. Ignore all the other contenders, this one gets it right. See our post for the deets.

Special Bonus: Bridesmaids in gold lame!

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“Nobody in this family understands me.”

Anyone questioning their commitment to Sparkle Motion?

Anyone questioning their commitment to Sparkle Motion?

A Hazard of Hearts (1987)

She Plays: Serena, heroine of this Barbara Cartland romance novel adapted for TV.

The Costumes: I haven’t seen this one, but it looks like your standard 1980s Regency rental costumes.

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“I got this from the rack at Cosprop. Got a problem?”

Francesco (1989)

She Plays: “Chiara” in this docu-drama about St. Francis of Assisi starring Mickey Rourke.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it, looks boring.

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At least there’s no Unfortunate Biggins!

The Early Life of Beatrix Potter (1990)

She Plays: Beatrix Potter, children’s book author and illustrator.

The Costumes: All I’ve got is this bad pic of the VHS box cover.

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Not quite Catholic Schoolgirl territory…

Hamlet (1990)

She Plays: Ophelia, duh, to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet.

The Costumes: Confession — I haven’t seen this! I’ve never been able to get past the fact that it stars Mel Gibson! From the images I’ve seen online, it looks like Glenn Close as Gertrude gets all the shiny medieval wear, while Helena/Ophelia is more in nubby linen.

Special Bonus: I got nothing.

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“I embroidered this nubby linen myself?”

Hot smock action?

Hot smock action!

Unfortunate Bigginses are always unfortunate

Unfortunate Bigginses are always unfortunate.

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)

She Plays: Helen Mirren has married an Italian (gasp!) and had a baby. Helena Bonham Carter is her priggish and disapproving relation, who heads off to Italy to handle the situation.

The Costumes: Edwardian perfection, with HBC in lots of tailored shirtwaist  suits.

Special Bonus: Judy Davis and Rupert Graves!

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Judgy relatives to the rescue.

How do you say "I disapprove" in Italian?

How do you say “I disapprove” in Italian?

Howards End (1992)

She Plays: Helen Schlegel, upper middle class free spirit with a soft spot for the downtrodden.

The Costumes: More Merchant/Ivory perfection, but set a few years later than their previous costume movies — now in 1910, so there’s a dash of bohemianism.

Special Bonus: Bluebells at midnight.

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“My hair is a clue to my emotional state.”

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“He has potential, eh?”

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“This is TOTALLY going to work out.”

Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald (1993)

She Plays: Marina Oswald, wife of the (probable) assassin of John F. Kennedy.

The Costumes: There’s a blonde wig?

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“Boarding school, anyone?”

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Slightly more glam.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

She Plays: Elizabeth Frankenstein, true love/wife of Kenneth Branagh’s Victor Frankenstein.

The Costumes: Gorgeous 18th-century outfits, particularly Helena’s redingote and her embroidered wedding dress.

Special Bonus: Hot wedding night make-out scene!

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“Wait, THIS embroidery?”

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Love the color palette.

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Branagh-on-corset action.

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Redingote FTW!

A Dark Adapted Eye (1994)

She Plays: Faith Severn, narrator of this WWII psychological thriller.

The Costumes: No clue, haven’t seen it!

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Not the most flattering of hemlines.

Margaret’s Museum (1995)

She Plays: Margaret, who lives in a bleak Nova Scotian mining town in the 1940s.

The Costumes: Did I mention bleak?

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“I’m too depressed to take out my rag curls.”

Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

She Plays: Olivia, who falls in love with a woman-disguised-as-a-boy in the Shakespeare play.

The Costumes: Fabulous late Victorian Aesthetic Movement — lots of medieval-ish fabrics and colors.

Special Bonus: Ben Kingsley as Feste, the fool.

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“Really? You put me in PINK?”

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Beautifully trimmed ball gowns.

A Merry War/Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1997)

She Plays: Rosemary, wife of Richard E. Grant, who ditches his well-paying job for poetry in 1930s London.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it!

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“Why hasn’t Kendra watched this movie?”

Phase 2: Goth Poster Child

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

She Plays: Kate Croy, upper class and cash poor; in love with a working man (gasp!) but dependent on her rich aunt. Things get complicated when she and her love meet a wealthy American heiress with a fatal illness.

The Costumes: A.MAZ.ING. Set in the early- to mid-1910s, there are GIANT HATS. FORTUNY GOWNS. JEWEL TONES. EMBROIDERY. BEADS. EMBELLISHMENT.

Special Bonus: Dark alley shagging!

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HAT!

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Beads!

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Someday I will make this. You have been warned.

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One out of three here is being genuine.

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Fortuny gowns in Venice!

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MOAR HAT GOODNESS

Merlin (1998)

She Plays: Morgan le Fey, evil sorceress and half-sister to King Arthur.

The Costumes: Fantasy Roman/medieval fabulousness, with rich jewel-toned sari fabrics, lots of bling, and very gothy makeup.

Special Bonus: Helena gets to rock the ugly makeup.

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RomanCelticMedievalOid Princess

Nothing a few spells won't fix.

Nothing a few spells won’t fix.

Henry VIII (2003)

She Plays: Anne Boleyn to Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII.

The Costumes: A step up from The Tudors, but definite fantasy. It’s as though elves have taken over the Tudor court. Lots of perfect-for-RenFaire princess dresses, blingy crowns, and long trailing hair extensions.

Special Bonus: Helena was obviously pregnant throughout the filming, so there’s lots of gowns cut to hide her belly and careful framing.

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“I’m not using Ray Winstone to hide my pregnancy. Nope.”

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Shiny shiny shiny!

Is crushed velvet better than stretch?

Is crushed velvet better than stretch?

The Heart of Me (2003)

She Plays: Dinah, free spirit who has an affair with her sister’s husband in 1930s London.

The Costumes: Lovely Deco-era hair and gowns.

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I want this lipstick.

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“I’m a REALLY bad sister.”

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

She Plays: Beatrice Baudelaire, mother of the orphans around whom the story centers. She dies early on…

The Costumes: …which must be why I can’t find any pictures of her! I know I saw this, but sadly too long ago to remember.

Sixty Six (2006)

She Plays: Esther Reubens, mother of son whose bar mitzvah falls on on the day England plays in the 1966 World Cup Final.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen this Helena Bonham Carter costume movie — any futbol/HBC fans out there want to chime in?

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Nice bouffant!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) / Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) / Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 & 2 (2010/2011)

She Plays: Bellatrix Lestrange, eeeee-vil and crazy witch out to get Harry Potter.

The Costumes: Goth witch fantasy! Crazy hair, laced-up everything, and leather corsets.

Special Bonus: Epic battle with Molly Weasley!

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“Who me?”

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Avada Kevdavra!

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Not insane. Nope.

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

She Plays: Mrs. Lovett, baker of suspicious meat pies.

The Costumes: Every steampunk/goth’s dreams come true: stripes, distressing, tiny top hats, fingerless gloves…

Special Bonus: Johnny Depp AND Helena in goth Victorian bathing suits!

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Steampunky goodness.

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“Isn’t he dreamy?”

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Goths at the beach?!

Enid (2006)

She Plays: Enid Blyton, children’s book author with a complex love life.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen this Helena Bonham Carter costume movie, but it looks like some promising 1930s-wear!

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Glammy-glam-glam!

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Polka dots!

The King’s Speech (2010)

She Plays: Queen Elizabeth, wife of stammering King George VI. She’s the quiet support behind the throne.

The Costumes: Understated and elegant, nothing to jump up and down about.

Special bonus: A party at Balmoral gives us a glimpse of the glamorous Wallis Simpson, livening things up costume-wise.

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“Maybe they should just put me in charge.”

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Rockin’ the beige.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

She Plays: The Red Queen, off-ing heads right and left!

The Costumes: Crazy, over the top, fabulous, Oscar-winning Colleen Atwood designs.

Special Bonus: All the digital special effects.

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Piglets are the new black!

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A little help from the digital effects team.

Great Expectations (2012)

She Plays: Miss Havisham, who has never gotten over being jilted at the altar and is overly invested in screwing with people.

The Costumes: Set slightly earlier than most adaptations, in the late Regency era, there’s a lot of fabulous jewel tones and crazy hair. Helena/Miss Havisham wears an intricately tattered wedding dress inspired by Alexander McQueen.

Great Expectations, 2011,

“Ditched by my fiance? Oh I’m TOTALLY fine with it.”

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Each ruffle represents a tear.

Dark Shadows (2012)

She Plays: Dr. Julia Hoffman, live-in psychiatrist to the vampiric Collins family in 1972.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it, I suck!

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Redhead!

Les Misérables (2012)

She Plays: Mme. Thénardier, part of a husband/wife team of scoundrels. She takes in Cosette for the money, and then later shows back up to dredge profit from all the goings-on.

The Costumes: At least on HBC, very Sweeney Todd-esque gothy scum wear.

Special Bonus: Helena Bonham Carter gets to play one half of the comic relief team, a welcome respite from Russell Crowe’s bad singing.

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Foster mother of the year?

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“We clean up just fine!”

Burton & Taylor (2013)

She Plays: Elizabeth Taylor, getting ready to star in a play in 1983, as she wrestles with her ex, Richard Burton.

The Costumes: Glam 1980s Liz with violet contacts!

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“Does my hair say ‘Tempestuous’ enough?”

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Keeping the makeup understated. As Liz did.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

She Plays: Red Harrington, brothel madam and assistant to the heroes.

The Costumes: I haven’t actually seen this one, but I admit I do love her look here! It’s very Tim Burton/Colleen Atwood/Helena Bonham Carter, so probably nothing new, but I’m a sucker for a redhead.

Special Bonus: Huge amounts of cultural sensitivity, LOL?

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Froofy redheaded madam action!

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“My genius is wasted on this town.”

What’s the Next Helena Bonham Carter Costume Movie?

Cinderella (2015)

Playing against type — you’d expect her to be the wicked stepmother — we’ll next see HBC as the Fairy Godmother in the Disney live-action Cinderella. The trailer was just released, and it looks FABulous. Helena Bonham Carter looks like she’s in a 1930s version of 18th century, in the best possible way.

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“Glass slippers are REALLY comfortable.”

Suffragette (2015)

Helena joins Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan in a film about the women’s suffrage movement in the UK. She’ll be playing Edith New, militant activist.

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Srs feminist is srs.

Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass

The sequel to the 2010 film, I’m assuming it’ll be more off-with-their-heads shenanigans.

 

So what’s your favorite role HBC has played? Have you seen one of these costume movies I haven’t? Share in the comments below.

 

 

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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.

11 Responses

  1. Trystan

    I saw Dark Shadows, & it sucked, not you, Kendra! I’m saying that as a fan of the original TV show, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, & HBC. That movie was a total waste of everybody’s time & talent.

    I also disliked Great Expectations, I thot HBC kind of chewed the scenery with Miss Havisham a bit too much. Then again, I hate Charles Dickens bec. (among other things) he writes crappy female characters, so it’s not like she had a lot to work with. I’d wear the outfit tho.

    Reply
  2. Kendra

    Phew, glad to hear I don’t HAVE to go watch Dark Shadows. Just sounds like The Addams Family update, minus Wednesday burning her blonde nemesis at the stake.

    I don’t hate Dickens for his crappy female characters, but I find it hard to get excited. I saw the HBC Great Expectations but I don’t really remember too much about it! I do like the costumes, tho. The stuff on Holliday Grainger as Estella remind me very much of the Reese Witherspoon Vanity Fair.

    Reply
  3. Anne

    I know it is difficult, but Hamlet was surprisingly good. I don’t like him either, but I like Shakespeare, and I LOVE Helena. Her performance is outstanding and his doesn’t suck (unlike a certain Romeo who makes watching that version so very very painful). I encourage you to watch it, and then have one of your favorite movies as a chaser.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I LOVED Mel Gibson’s Hamlet! It helped that I discovered it as an angsty goth teenager, so I was totally primed for the angsty, tortured scenery chewing. Loved the costumes, too. Glen Close has some fabulous gowns, and even HBC’s Ophelia gets some pretty outfits before she dives into madness. Also, she is great in the role. Absolutely perfectly cast!

      Reply
  4. Colleen Crosby

    She was all costumey in Big Fish, but I’m not sure what I’d call the costumes…

    Reply

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