TBT: Moll Flanders (1996)


In 1996, two adaptions of the Daniel Defoe novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders were brought to the screen — an American film version starring Robin Wright Penn and a British TV version starring Alex Kingston. The American film took the character of Moll, makes her a prostitute (with Stockard Channing as the madame), and eventually Moll falls in love with an artsy dude and is “redeemed.” This is almost entirely nothing like Defoe’s book.

The four-part British miniseries of Moll Flanders is very faithful to the novel and uses a great deal of the actual text, including having Kingston’s Moll directly address the audience. The original work is written as an autobiography, so breaking the third wall and using voiceovers gives a strong first-person feeling. It doesn’t hurt that Kingston is a highly engaging actor and well-suited to the alternately conniving and tender-hearted character of Moll. The only problem is that the book takes Moll from teenage to her 60s, and there’s no attempt to youthen or age Kingston. The only indicator of time passing is some of the fashions changing, which looks a little odd more than anything. Still, the performances are wonderful, there’s romance, sex, humor, adventure, and really good costumes, so this Moll Flanders is the one to watch, no question!


Moll Flanders (1996)

Moll is supposed to be 18-years-old here. I don’t buy it. But I do love this early 17th-c. outfit with the lovely cap and tall hat.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Her first lover — basically, Moll’s foster brother, although she marries her other foster brother.

Moll Flanders (1996)

After husband #1 dies, Moll goes to London where things get shiny since husband #2 is a draper-gentleman. The cocktails & fabric shop scene is AWESOME.

Moll Flanders (1996)

In search of husband #3. Very smart how Kingston’s super-curly hair is done in historically accurate ringlets during this part of the series.

Moll Flanders (1996)

But she gets a couple clunky dresses when she marries husband #3. They’re not the worst, but not the best either. Also, this movie is definitely in the camp of “I don’t care if it’s historically accurate, I just want my tits out.”

Moll Flanders (1996)

Another clunky dress. At least the hair is done right.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Diana Rigg makes a guest appearance as Moll’s long-lost mother.

Moll Flanders (1996)

After ditching husband #3, we’re back to shiny clothes. Check out this faaaabulous stripey gown.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Confessing your many sins, while looking oh-so good.

Moll Flanders (1996)

When the love of your life is also a rouge (and also Daniel Craig).

Moll Flanders (1996)

Moll wears this stunning red gown before and after marrying husband #4 (Craig), but I couldn’t get a clear screencap because she’s always moving around. So we have to make do with this closeup.

Moll Flanders (1996)

When she marries the appropriately named Mr. Bland, Moll wears a nice, simple green dress. I’d peg this as 1670s, pretty much where all her outfits are post-husband #1.

Moll Flanders (1996)

But when Mr. Bland suddenly dies, Moll is wearing a 1690s-1700s gown, complete with a fontange-style cap. How much time has passed? She bore him two kids, but the oldest doesn’t look more than 6. They couldn’t have been together 20 years!

Moll Flanders (1996)

That last husband’s death leads Moll to thievery and … mid-18th-century clothing?

Moll Flanders (1996)

Moll’s pink stripey outfit is adorable, but it looks very 1760s at the earliest to me. And her landlady, center, has a 1980s poodle-perm. Her partner-in-crime, Lucy, right, has another adorable but very 18th-century pink dress.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Randomly, when Lucy gets caught and thrown in jail, she’s wearing a mid-18th-c. outfit, while Moll is back in a 1690s gown (with great embroidered cuffs tho’). Fashion timeline, um, wut?

Moll Flanders (1996)

Then when Moll is about to get caught and doesn’t give a fuck, she just lets her hair go all frizzy and wears this fantasy gown. IDK.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Because that gown will look better tattered up at her trial.

Moll Flanders (1996)

And yet, she gets one of her fancy 1670s dresses back for her hanging. Doesn’t make sense to me, but of course it looks nice for TV.


Are you a fan of Moll Flanders with Alex Kingston?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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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. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

20 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    Gotta catch it for the fun of ‘I don’t care if it’s appropriate or period, I just want my tits out’.
    I saw the Robin Wright Penn version and was hugely disappointed as to the free adaptation of the novel and the meh clothes.

  2. Linda Merrill

    Loved this Moll Flanders. I always envisioned Alex Kingston as Claire from Outlander. Always. The hair, the eye color, the wry wit. If her age had worked out, she would have been perfect.

  3. Kathleen Norvell

    Moll’s “pink stripey outfit” is a mantua, which you can see in the next screen shot, with the skirt pulled back. So it’s not 1760s, but more like 1690s. Yes, I loved the Alex Kingston version. Never saw the Robin Wright one, and now I’m glad. Alex can rollick with the best of them and has always had that hoyden-ish attitude.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      If it’s the same gown, then it’s worn with different undergarments! In the earlier scene, she has side hoops (or something to make it full over the hips) & the skirt isn’t pulled back in the mantua style. Which would be fine bec. gowns were definitely restyled over time, but it’s the going back & forth in time with fashion that’s weird.

  4. SarahV

    I loved the hell out of this series, and I thought that her lusty Virginian sea-captain was hella hot.

    • Constance

      He is Silent Witness guy, one non-period show I watch sometimes. And I think he was a Wickham!

  5. Lynn253

    I love this version, Alex Kingston is great! I just looked at my old DVD copy, it was a Masterpiece Theater production. I love Daniel Craig too, I didn’t realize he was in it. I will have to watch this again.

  6. themodernmantuamaker

    I have been meaning to see this for AGES. I Lurv Alex Kingston – so feisty, so mischievous but utterly charming! There definitely seem to be some WUT costume moments going on, but lots of pretty nonetheless. Thanks for reminding me that I need to make seeing this a priority!

  7. alexandrina

    actually had no idea there was an american version, i actually watched it because i was a huge fan of kingston at the time – but it subsequently led me to the book, which i enjoyed greatly