The Not-So Magnificent Century

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We’ve snarked photos from The Magnificent Century (2011-2014), aka Muhtesem Yüzyil, plenty of times before, but I thought it was only fair to give the TV series a legit try when I found it on Netflix. Loosely based on the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, the 10th and longest reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire, this is pretty much a Turkish take on The Tudors. Meaning, it’s a romanticized historical fiction version of a well-known figure, done up quite lavishly if not very accurately.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

The series was hugely popular in Turkey, breaking records with 150 million weekly viewers. But the less-than-reverent portrayal of Süleyman and ever-so-slightly racy harem scenes earned the ire of conservative forces, including Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who condemned the show on several occasions. This didn’t stop its successful run or a sequel The Magnificent Century: Kösem (Muhtesem Yüzyil: Kösem) beginning in 2015, about the 14th sultan in the 1590s, and that series is still on air.

Much like The Tudors, this series follows a basic outline of the historical facts and then embellishes for dramatic effect. To be fair, as some articles have pointed out, there are fewer court chronicles to rely upon, especially with details about the women’s lives in the Ottoman Empire. Directors (and brothers) Yağmur and Durul Taylan told the New Yorker that they sought out a female scriptwriter, Meral Okay, to show a woman’s perspective of this historical period.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Because, while Süleyman’s political exploits and military campaigns get a fair amount of screentime, the real meat of the story takes place behind the harem walls between the women. There’s the sultan’s mother, Hasfa, who schemes to keep Mahidevran as chief consort, since she has born the sultan’s eldest son. But the star is Alexandra, a flame-haired Ukrainian/Russian slave, who entrances the sultan and takes on his pet name for her, Hürrem. It’s fairly standard soap-opera back-biting bitchery, complete with pillow fights, slapping, tears and recriminations, and the men fading into the background. Not exactly strong powerful women, but they are more interesting than the men, who seem to just stand around and send edicts about beheadings.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

 

Costumes in The Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yüzyil)

I’m gonna run this Turkish Tudors analogy into the ground, so bear with me. You know how The Tudors costumes take the general sillhouettes and style of 16th-century English court clothing and then screw it up with non-period fabric, details from other eras, or totally modern elements? Yeah, that’s exactly how the costumes of The Magnificent Century relate to what the court of Süleyman the Magnificent wore.

Usually at this point in a Frock Flicks review, I’d insert a bunch of historical costume references so you have something to compare the TV show’s costumes to. But c’mon, do you really need a lot of explanation to see that these costumes aren’t super accurate? You can practically feel the polyester georgette through the screen. I did scour the interwebs for comparison images, but for Süleyman’s (westernized spelling: Suleiman) reign from 1520-1566, most of what’s available are Turkish male garb. The female images I’ve found are either westernized (by artists who never visited the Ottoman court) or they’re from a later date. But still, look at the TV costumes, they speak for themselves. I get a lot more Lord of the Rings elf gowns / European medieval fantasy princesses than authentic Turkish 16th century court garb.

1530, Emperor Suleiman, by Titian

1530, Emperor Suleiman, by Titian.

1550, La Sultana Rossa (the 'red sultan' aka the Russian sultan, referring to Hürrem), by Titian.

1550, La Sultana Rossa (the ‘red sultan’ aka the Russian sultan, referring to Hürrem), by Titian.

Ottoman miniature of Emperor Suleiman from during his reign.

Ottoman miniature of Emperor Suleiman from during his reign.

16th-c. women's inner kaftan from the Topkapi Palace Museum.

16th-c. women’s inner kaftan from the Topkapi Palace Museum.

Turkish woman from the Ralamb Costume Book, purchased by a Swedish statesman, Claes Ralamb, in 1657, so possibly drawn earlier.

Turkish woman from the Ralamb Costume Book, purchased by a Swedish statesman, Claes Ralamb, in 1657, so possibly drawn earlier.

Turkish woman from the Ralamb Costume Book, purchased by a Swedish statesman, Claes Ralamb, in 1657, so possibly drawn earlier.

Another Turkish woman from the Ralamb Costume Book, 1657 or earlier.

So yeah, there’s the history lesson you didn’t need.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Turban shape is fine. But I’m very bothered by the pre-crinkled you-know-it’s-poly multicolored fabric.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Machine embroidery and poly georgette FTW.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Sure, totally modern belly dance costume, why not?

In general, what the women wear in The Magnificent Century is too tight and shows too much cleavage and bare shoulders for 16th century Turkey. The fabric choices range from just OK to screamingly modern poly baroque satin. The women’s long, flowing hair and pink lip gloss are 100% modern, and the men’s hair is kind of modern too. I’m pretty sure more (or all) of the men should have long beards as well; in the series, long beards are used only for old men.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Because, boobs?

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

I feel like she should be wandering around Lothlorien waiting for Galadriel.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Meanwhile, she’s going to conjure up some spells on Once Upon a Time.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

The head necklaces are strong with this one.

I do like that The Magnificent Century attempted to make the elaborate headgear seen in illustrations of the period for both men and women. Also, the series makes a point of showing that Süleyman was a skilled jeweler, and pieces he makes are sometimes a plot point (the repro jewelry is available all over the Middle East and online). This jewelry helps prove the show’s commitment to sparkle motion, that’s for sure.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

No idea if the design is 16th-c. Turkish, but it’s pretty.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

This headdress is awesome. A+

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

More great headgear. But the minky fur coat? Not so much.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Mother of the emperor in Tudor evil queen drag.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

She’s supposed to be a kidnapped Princess Isabella, but she looks like’s stumbling home from the goth club early in the morning.

Magnificent Century (2011-2014), Muhtesem Yüzyil

Still haven’t figured out what this is supposed to be. Nope. No freakin’ idea.

 

 

Have you tried to watch The Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yüzyil)? Do you like the soap opera or just enjoy snarking it?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

40 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Gosh. I feel like I’m reading a bad historical romance novel with pictures. But I still plan on trying to find this to have a good ROTFLI moment or moments.
    And the Sultana er queen Mom, could definitely be a new Evil Queen on OUAT so Regina can get her happy ending.

    Reply
  2. Cassidy

    I loooove Magnificent Century. Because it’s a soap opera, there’s a lot of gasping, close-ups of conflicted expressions, meaningful stares, and so on – so you don’t have to be constantly focusing on subtitles, if you’re like me and you prefer to compute/internet/write while watching Netflix. You’re very very right about the costuming, though.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I do enjoy a good ol’ soap opera, which is how I got thru maybe 8 episodes of Magnificent Century one lazy Sunday! I had to remind myself it was supposed to be historical tho — imagining it was some fantasy kingdom seemed more appropriate, given the costumes ;-)

      Reply
      • Rona Terburg

        The FIRST thing I noticed besides the modern fabrics were the set-in sleeves😮 What. The. Heck. ?!? THEN I saw some ZIPPERS and satin covered buttons with plastic backs🤦🏼‍♀️ Oh and rick-rack!!!!!!!!!!!!! Baaaaaaah😫Otherwise I’ve enjoyed it muchly✨

        Reply
  3. Melinda

    This was a huge success in Hungary too, tried to watch it, but the bitchy drama and poly fabrics made me sick even after one episode :(

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Virtue

    I was particularly taken with the upholstered white pyramid hats on the inner council of courtiers (male.)

    Reply
  5. Sara

    Believe or not the version that aired on Turkish TV was even slower than the Netflix version. Every episode was at least an hour and a half. I found it nearly unwatchable.

    My husband is an Ottoman historian and while I’m not I have learned a fair amount about the Ottomans over the years, particularly the Harem system which I find endlessly fascinating.

    Reply
  6. mmcquown

    The Wikipedia entry for Roxelana (Khourrem, the Laughing One) is quite interesting. She also plays a significant role in the fourth book of the Lymond Chronicle, Pawn In Frankincense. She actually forced Suleyman to make her his wife, rather than just another concubine, and she was definitely a power behind the throne. By some accounts, she was Circassian, an ethnic group known for its beautiful women.

    Reply
  7. Evil Kevin

    That last pic was obviously shot on Yad Sdrawkcab. Her bedazzled casino visor is flipped up and reverse, and she’s got her pretty blue undergarment on backwards and over her dress.
    :-)

    Reply
  8. picasso Manu

    I swear I read that one as a historical romance back in the days I was reading historical romance, which means…. Eeek! All that time ago?!!

    Crap. Feel old now.

    I’m not bothered by the “Tudor drag” (insert giggle here), since the Ottomans also traded with Europe… And fashion has a way to get from one place to the other, as we all know.
    But yeah, fabric quality? Not exactly there… And once more, it’s not because they spent the budget on hairpins, Godframmit!

    Reply
  9. Susan Pola

    Dinosaurs? I thought it was the PolySatin Silk worn.? *Snorting while I typed this*

    Reply
      • Susan Pola

        In the Ottoman era, wasn’t the Valide Sultana (Queen Mum) the most powerful woman in the harem? Wonder if Roxalana survived to become the Valide?

        Reply
  10. Tracy Benton

    The costumes were snort-worthy though kinda pretty, in a playtrons at the ren faire kind of way, but the plot put me right to sleep.

    Reply
  11. ladyaquanine73551

    I remember reading a little bit about Turkish harems in this book written for American Girls called “The Black Tulip,” and takes place in the 17th century. (It was part of their “Girls of Many Lands” series).

    It’s weird that they get the costumes wrong a lot of the time, and yet the bizarre headdresses from the period actually get some recognition. I did find it ridiculous, based on the pictures, that the women are wearing corsets (or at least bodices with boning) when most of the time, they wore loose, comfy-looking caftans that were made of beautiful fabrics. Typical costume of that period consisted of a soft, loose caftan, one or more under-tunics, harem pants, and slippers. If the concubines wanted to be sexy, I suppose they would have worn clingy silk. I think when in the harem, they wore their hair down, but if, say, the Head Wife was in the court or in public (not sure if she was, but she would be the most likely one to leave the harem for such things) she would have probably worn her hair tied up, some elaborate head covering, and definitely a face veil of some kind. Maybe even a feminine turban on her head, or one of those semi-medieval-looking hats.

    That last picture immediately reminded me of that awful cat fight between Catherine Howard and Princess Mary in “The Tudors.” Same horrible outfit and ridiculous headdress on slutty little Cathy, same arrogant expression, same hands on hips. Though I’m not sure what they were going for in that scene. It looked like a cheap, poorly done knock-off of the Tudors fashion, and frankly, it has no place in ancient Turkey.

    It actually is not out of the realm of possibility that an Ottoman Emperor would have women from all over the place in his harem. By that time the Silk Road was up and running, and his traders would have had contact with quite a number of civilizations, not just the Middle East. A redhead with skin that pale would be seen as quite a prize in that part of the world. I also remember reading that royals and nobles from all over would sometimes offer brides/concubines as a form of diplomacy.

    I’m actually surprised that it’s the Head Wife, and not the sultan’s MOTHER who isn’t the head bitch in this soap opera. There’s a saying among Turks that “The world lies at the feet of the mother.” Often it was the sultan’s MOTHER who was the real power behind the throne, partially because she had to groom her son into becoming a ruler if the father was away on military campaigns all the time. Now if both his parents are dead, that’s another story entirely.

    Reply
  12. inny

    Not that I’m an expert on 16th C Middle East or anything, but shouldn’t the women put their hair up? (or maybe I’ve been reading your site waaaayyy too much;)

    But thanks for the heads (ha!) up for this series. I’ll watch it like I watched the Tudors… with lots of wine:)

    (ps/ot – just bought a lovely mug from your site. I will, as a noob here, don a head necklace, hoard bobby pins (I have 6!), wear a corset without a chemise and watch Marie Antoinette over and over again. All while drinking bad box wine out of a shiny new mug. One of these things should endear me to you:)

    Reply
      • inny

        I kinda suspected that:)

        Now that my noob status is winding down, I should tell you how I got here…

        Broken ankle, tall house, many cats… whatever. I thought I would take the time and take on a knitting project. Ok, my project was ‘teach inny how to knit.’

        It was a long way between a hard core Game of Thrones forum and here, but, well, consider the chunky knits of Outlander my pathway.

        I still don’t know how to knit…

        Gotta run… uzbekistan wants their bobby pins back…

        Reply
  13. Charity

    Gifsets from this show turn up all the time in the “period drama” tag on Tumblr and make me want to cry. :P

    Reply
  14. Vera

    On the last pic the headgear looks like the so called “párta” (in Hungarian) which was the traditional wear of unmarried women (symbolizing virginity). :)

    Reply
  15. Vishnaya

    I really enjoyed the show since it’s an interesting period to me and I thought it was well done…..the costumes are very inaccurate but very pretty and interesting to ponder….though I was pretty annoyed with the whole Spanish princess look. They do seem to take a very strong LOTR/GOT/Ren faire feel instead of really making any effort for accuracy. Probably because to be period accurate everyone would just be in multiple layers and completely covered up which certainly doesn’t sell for drama….so I understand. I really hope Netflix picks up the rest of the seasons :)

    Reply
    • picasso Manu

      I’m not sure… Also, her arms are in a bit of a weird position, almost looks as if her FACE is the thing backward. Very strange.
      And lovely fake dupion silk FTW!

      Reply
  16. Pina

    I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT FOR SO LONG. Though, confession time, I’m surprised you took the time to watch it because I don’t remember being able to endure more than 15 mins in one sitting, and I think as a whole I viewed about five episodes of the original show. But I feel like I know it so well, partly because of pop-cultural osmosis. When it was on air it was everywhere. Even serious Ottoman historians were watching it.
    Its success, I think, lies in being the first of its kind. Before the ’90s there were only the state-run TRT channels available on Turkish TV, and their period pieces generally tended to a) be “educational” in purpose and b) have very low production values so everything looked sort of historically accurate but also sort of drab. In the 90’s and ’00s not many historical TV shows were made, and ones that were made, especially those about the Ottoman era, tended to be somewhat more colorful versions of old TRT productions. I remember another TV project about Süleyman and Hürrem that aired in the early 2000s that totally tanked and was cancelled after a few episodes.
    Then the Magnificent Century happened, with its explosion of color and glitter and boobs. You very astutely observe their “commitment to sparkle motions”, I don’t think it could have been said better than that. It’s exactly that shiny version of history, that “magnificence” is what they’re selling. You mention fabric choices, well I don’t know anything about fabric, but I believe if the producers could keep all the glitter and boobs and the fantasy princess hair but were only asked to use better & more historically accurate fabric (a choice they probably had anyway), they would still use the polyester because it looks so damn SHINY.
    Couldn’t they have performed the same commitment to glitter with somewhat more authentic designs, you may ask. Well I guess anyone could do anything if they really wanted to. I wouldn’t describe Turkish TV producers as the most hardworking people around. Also there’s a cultural expectation at work here: Unlike for example in India and Japan, where sari and kimono are still beloved ceremonial dresses, in Turkey most aspects of classical Ottoman clothing, but especially the şalvar, are considered “peasant garb” nowadays. Even the conservatives would find the the Tudors-esque ballgown look more appealing than the original Ottoman styles. So the corsets and the boobs both appeal to contemporary tastes and work as a visual shorthand for how much more glam their version of history is than what you’re used to.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      The appealing to modern shiny aesthetics is something I feel is common around the world today! That’s why the comparison to The Tudors works — modern U.S. audiences ate that up bec it looked very sparkly & pretty & kinda sorta historical but not stodgy or stiff.

      Magnificent Century follows that vein very well! Serving up the glamour with just a hint of history ;)

      As prob the least reverent one around here, I get what shows like this are doing. Sometimes I enjoy watching them for fun (ehem, Reign!) but I also love snarking them, lol.

      Reply
      • Cynthia Virtue

        Oh, yes: snark AND having fun watching can go together! And I can snark freely because it’s not someone’s earnest first attempt I might be disparaging, it’s a professional who knew she was making choices based on what the show would give her for a budget and a look.

        Reply
      • inny

        Now you’re gonna make me watch Reign… dammit!

        As a woman of a certain age and with over 400 college students, I actually kind of like the historical fiction on tv boom. At least the young’ens are asking questions.

        Granted, I don’t teach history…

        Back to topic. Thanks for highlighting this show – I would have missed it. Its a period of history that I adore and a geography that I know nothing about. This is a good thing:)

        Reply
  17. Joanne Renaud

    Thanks for covering Magnificent Century here! I finally watched the show– well, the first two episodes of it– and it was fun, in a very Turkish telenovela sort of way. SO MANY DRAMATIC CLOSE-UPS! The costumes were pretty risible, especially the blue Evil Queen outfits worn by the sultan’s mother. I actually laughed out loud when she walked in wearing that.

    However, I am enjoying watching something which is not American, Canadian or Western European. It’s interesting watching the characters go back and forth in Turkish, Russian and Italian.

    One thing that I find particularly interesting, costume-wise, is how the costumes seem to take their inspiration from Ottoman styles– but 18th century Ottoman styles, when the clothes were low-cut and form-fitting (esp. in the artwork of Levni, who worked from 1720-1725). There are a bunch of pictures here. So yeah, only off by two centuries… But this probably ties in to what Pina said above, in her wonderful comment about “cultural expectations.” It’s Turkish-inspired, but less frumpy, I’m guessing. (Of course, since this is a period I know little about, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. :) )

    Reply
  18. ladyaquanine73551

    I think I figured out why so many Turks were watching this. Based on some earlier comments, if all they had was boring, State-run propaganda crap on tv, it’s no wonder tons of ordinary Turks would happily watch this. It’s a distant echo of a trend I noted in early tv-watching culture in the US after the 1950s.

    I watched some of the classical tv shows (or, at least tried to), and I was thinking to myself, “Why would anybody enjoy this? A lot of these stories are dumb! Or boring!” Now, mom’s default answer of “It was a CLASSIC!!!” didn’t do it for me. Dad’s answer to my question was more reasonable. He explained that such shows were only watched because they were there, not because people would have loved them like we would. Everyone was doing it, and everyone would talk about the new episode the next day or the following week, and if you didn’t see it, you weren’t in the loop or were not “cool.” People didn’t watch the classics because they always liked said shows (some were okay, and a few I saw were still good, even today, but some I just shake my head at). They just watched them because they were on, and it was a time to spend with family and friends gathered around the tv. I think that’s what’s happening in Turkey too, with this show.

    We’re all so spoiled now with nearly 1,000 tv channels and tons of shows to choose from. Netflix and tv shows on dvd have only made it worse. It’s difficult to understand how limited tv is outside of the US and Europe when we’ve got an attitude of “900 channels and only 5 of them have anything good on! Time for Netflix!” TV actually kinda sucks outside of those regions, hence why many people in other countries get satellite tv and just watch our shows, hehe. I know they do, because my pen-pal in England is one of them xD.

    So perhaps the Turks are motivated to watch this because a.) tv sucks over there, and b.) regardless of the inaccuracies, they like seeing something that speaks volumes of their cultural identity without the State writing the script.

    Reply
  19. Moria

    Magnificent Century, both the original and the sequel were really popular in my country (Poland). I guess because of change of pace from the American series and native telenovelas which oversaturated our TV channels. I can’t deny that whenever I managed to catch it on TV, I stuck with it because of its fantasy splendor. I think I enjoyed the sequel more because I kinda rooted for the main villain, perhaps because she was the most-gloriously over-the-top costumed character of them all.

    Reply

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