How to (and How Not to) Film Hot Sex in Costume Dramas

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If there’s one thing we enjoy here at Frock Flicks, it’s some good shagging in costume. And we know you do to, because you’re always searching for it on our site — you can’t fool us, we see the search logs, we know you’re constantly looking up “sex scenes in historical movies,” “corset sex movies,” “historical sex movies,” “sex scene in costume movie,””19th century sex scene movies,” “17 century sex scene holy wod,” “historic pornos,” “costume sex movie,” “neverseenfuckflicks,” “sex in frock,” “historically sexual movie,” “top 10 historical sexy movie,” and the ever popular “hot gay men” and “frock sex.” This is nothing new, since we launched the blog, you’re all in for the costume drama sex as much as we are, and that’s 100% OK!

But the problem is that not all historical costume movies and TV shows really know how to deliver good frock sex. There’s an art and science to hot historical movie sex scenes, and “Holy Wod” would do well to listen up for our advice (or even Hollywood, and maybe the BBC, ITV, and yes, Canal+ because they think they know what we want, but they’re not always nailing the corset sex movies, despite their reputation).

 

1. Get the costumes right before you take them off

This is number one for a reason. Obviously, us frock flickers are a specific market, but we will have a difficult time believing in anything about the scene if the characters rip off a corset in five seconds or, worse, they take off their historical costumes to reveal modern underwear. A big part of what makes historical costume sex hot is the costume!

We love everything from the delicate rolling down of a glove for a genteel kiss to cunnilingus under a hoopskirt. In Secret (2013) is THE BEST movie for showing how to have sex while still wearing a full Victorian costume (it’s a shitty movie for everything else, btw). The proper historical costume makes the sex so much more sexy. Don’t skimp, or we won’t get off.

 

2. You need chemistry, or a good plot point

Any onscreen sex scene benefits from good chemistry between the actors. Outlander is so fucking hot because Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan work really really well together even when the story stretches credulity (Jezebel extends this from the actors to the characters, saying “Jamie and Claire only have chemistry with each other and literally no one else on the show”).

Outlander

Likewise, Original Sin (2001) is hothothot because Angelina Jolie and Antonio Bandaras just work together.  And the lead actresses in Mystère à la Tour Eiffel (2017) absolutely spark off each together as the wacky mystery plot forces them around and about and in love.

Mystère à la Tour Eiffel (2017)

 

2. The setting matters

Some historical movies layer in the sex, but it’s totally unsexy simply because of where the sex happens. Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008) has a some very unsexy battlefield rape that’s not staged in a believable manner (random naked women running around and getting grabbed and molested) so it neither looks like a historical action nor like sex. It’s just gratuitous nudity, and that’s not sexy here.

Bathory: Countess of Blood (2008)

Bathory also includes a lot of nightmarish dream-sequence sex scenes that, while including full-frontal male nudity — usually something we’re fans of — are a turn-off because it’s more horror movie than hot stuff.

 

3. Historically accurate lighting is everything

One word: Candlelight. If the show is in a pre-electricity era, candlelight is a must. Full daylight isn’t as sexy, and total darkness isn’t that sexy either. A good lighting director is important in any movie or TV production here. Take some advice from Cesare and Catherina Sforza in The Borgias (2011-13).

 

4. Don’t use too modern of music

As much as I enjoyed the 1980s new wave music throughout Sophia Coppla’s Marie-Antoinette (2006), using Adam Ant during the Queen and Fersen’s sex scene felt cheap and less sexy to me. It was too cutesy and not hot, even though both parties involved were hot, the setting was hot, etc.

Marie-Antoinette

The arty cinematographic style of Henry & June (1990) might not be everyone’s fave (I love the hell out of it), but the soundtrack filled with Josephine Baker, Bing Crosby, Debussy, French and Spanish folk songs, and tunes like Erik Satie’s “Je te veux” all fit the bohemian Paris 1931 setting for the NC-17-rated triangle between diarist Anaïs Nin, writer Henry Miller, and his wife June.

 

4. Say the right things, or keep quiet

When the Vicomte de Valmont says to Cecile, “Let me teach you some Latin words” in Dangerous Liaisons (1988), it’s sexy because, not only is she into it by this point, but you know it’s going to be a lesson worth learning.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

But when Chevalier de Sainte-Croix in Marquise of Darkness (2010) prattles on to Marie about all the amazing special effects of his aphrodisiacs, ugh, he’s just talk and no razzle-dazzle.

 

5. Tease, then show

We like a bit of a tease, you know, what’s wrong with a kiss? You don’t have to go leaping straight for the sexy parts like a bull at a gate, you know. Moll Flanders (1996) is a jolly period romp from a woman’s point of view and gives a nice sweet, flirty lead in to each conquest, the most with Moll’s true love.

Moll Flanders (1996)

Another great tease is the mutual masturbation scene in Nora (2000). James Joyce (played by Ewan McGregor) and his wife Nora (Susan Lynch) are separated, reading each other’s letters, and jacking themselves off. It’s like ultra low-tech phone sex or sexting. Their words describing how much they miss each other and want to fuck are a huge tease to the characters, and the audience gets a full, satisfying show.

Nora (2000)

 

6. Slow it down, or speed it up

The slow-fade is a cop-out. That’s the weakest of the weaksauce sex scene where there’s a few kisses, a laydown, and fade to black. Blink and you miss it, but the implication in later scenes is that two people had sex. BORING. Braveheart (1995) is notorious for this, and the damn movie has so much explicit violence and bullshit nonsense that drags on for hours, there should be time for a decent sex scene. See also, Downton Abbey and Poldark. Slow that thing down and show us the money.

Conversely, the scene could be speeded up to a quickie of actual sex. Think Queen Margot (1994), up against the wall, pas le bouche! Also, Versailles, season one, episode 2, did a fabulous job of showing Louis having sex (including stand-up cunnilingus) with Henriette and fast-cutting that between a fight of his brother Phillipe, in drag. As the punches flew, Louis got down and dirty. Kiss kiss bang bang! Yes, please.

 

7. Give equal time for everyone

Boobs and butts and full-frontal for all! That’s the Frock Flicks motto when it comes to sex onscreen. Either show everybody’s skin or don’t show anyone’s (we prefer the former). Also, let’s show both women and men enjoying sex, whether they’re partnered or solo, same-sex or opposite-sex.

Maurice (1987) — a gay male Edwardian love story — and Breaking the Code (1996) — an Alan Turing biopic — have decent showings of male butts, and Versailles is OK (at least in the uncensored version) at showing almost as many butts as boobs. But c’mon, female breasts are all over the place, yet male full-frontal is still taboo? That’s the fucking patriarchy talking, and we are NOT here for it.

Versailles

 

8. Historical consequences should happen

We cover movies and TV set in historical eras before reliable birth control. It’s fair for stories to consider the consequences of some types of sexual activity. Not every production has to be The Scarlet Letter, of course, but think about how Harlots (2017-) has one of the prostitutes give birth at the end of the first season. At least allude to the fact, please.

Harlots (2017)

Also, the consequences don’t have to be suicide — I’m looking at you, Madame Bovary (2014).

 

We know you want it, now what are your sex tips for historical costume movies and TV shows?

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

32 Responses

  1. picasso Manu

    OoOoh, lots of pretty boys! And you’re a bit hard on Madame Bovary, since Flaubert wrote it that way… Of course, the fact that Emma doesn’t commit suicide much about her adultery but more of a cause of bad literature AND a terminal case of stupid is something that flies over directors heads faster than the Concorde. Admittedly, not easy to show. Flaubert is not a easy author for movie making.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Madame Bovary is emblematic of a whole trope of ‘girl discovers sex but has to die’ that runs throughout literature & thus film/TV. Flaubert didn’t invent it, but his work has been filmed a ton, so he’s easy to pick on :)

      Reply
      • picasso Manu

        Oh no, Gustave was far more complicated than that! He used the trope, yes, but twisted it quite savagely. Madame Bovary is a masterpiece, if only for the reason there’s not ONE likable character in it, which is quite the feat when you think about it. And it was quite deliberate, Flaubert was not an “easy” writer… Maupassant wrote fast, but Flaubert was really sweating it. But yes, getting those nuances on film is almost impossible, so we usually get Emma taking a nosedive in the arsenic… Oh, well…

        Reply
  2. Donnalee

    Good consideration of a big subject. It’s me being a stage manager/tarot reader/therapist to the alternative crowd that had me read through every detail, I swear–you know someone will show up in drag of some sort, or have those difficult corset issues. or not know how to do some kind of performance dressed a certain way.

    As a comment on one of your points, I always hated the wrong-time-period music completely, always found it way too jarring and off-putting. To me, it’s either a period piece with period music, OR some modern people dressing up, and the two mashed together bug the crap out of me. Just sayin–thanks for a fun article.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      A little modern music can be fun, but so often I think it’s a cop-out. Using period (or close to period) music is like getting the costumes right — it’s part of the whole package.

      Reply
      • Donnalee

        I agree. If I am attached to the period aspect, then modern stuff that doesn’;t even pretend to be period is justr NO, whereas if it’s just sort f eye candy all around, then fine, fake whatever you want, but I won’t take it seriously. Some thing with gorgeous young Heath Ledger (RIP) comes to mind–some crappy film maybe, but semicute outfits and semicute folks, and to me jarring music–

        Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Beautiful, unobtrusive period music is one of many admirable things about “Wolf Hall” (apart from some odd physical casting). Sometimes the music seems to be soundtrack, and then you find that it’s being played by a few court musicians..

      Reply
  3. Donnalee

    Also thanks for the clear distinction between volitional sex and molestation/rape that still gets conflated. They are not the same, however dressed up or fast or slow or whatever the attempts to disguise it are..

    Reply
  4. Cecily

    your points should also be applied to contemporary time sex scenes. I don’t mind the fade to black as much since an implied sex scene cop out is much better than a bad sex scene.

    Reply
  5. Em

    On the topic of consequences, I also wish more historical films would show us birth control methods used as well. Because faulty as they were–herbs, douches, even condoms (often reused, gross)–people did actually use them.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      True nuff! I should have mentioned Downton Abbey, when Lady Mary makes Anna buy a condom for her so Mary can have sex & “test drive” Lord Gillingham. And actually, Downton gets another nod for actual consequences when Edith has a baby out of wedlock. There’s also the housemaid who gets pregnant by the soldier during WWI on the show & whose life goes downhill.

      Reply
  6. Susan Pola Staples

    This is a very thought provoking blog. You raised several salient points, distinguished between rape/molestation and consensual sex, showed us yummy men and women (VERSAILLES Louis & Philippe).

    You also included one of my favourite on-screen couples – Claire and Jamie and their wedding night.

    One thing I puzzled over on Downton was why Mary thought of contraception and Edith didn’t.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I guess bec. Edith wanted to marry that guy — remember, he was just off to Germany to get a quickie divorce from his insane wife (or something like that) when he got killed & Edith turned out pregnant. But Mary had a plan to screw around before getting married.

      Reply
  7. Saraquill

    For many decades, drawers were split crotch. So much potential frock flicks hardly tap!

    Reply
  8. Jamie Jo

    the reason for few frontal male nudes in the flicks is this. NO actor wants to be thought of as hung like a hamster on the screen. and Downton was PBS, so NO chance of ANY sex scenes.

    Reply
  9. Deb-beh of Maddox

    Maurice doesn’t just have decent showings of male bums, it has willies too. God bless Merchant Ivory.

    Reply
  10. angharad

    I love the one in The Three (Four?) Musketeers when the Duke is hooking up with Milady (before she steals part of the necklace the French queen gave him) and it’s just the process of them taking off the many layers of court outfits.

    Reply
  11. Kaite

    Not just getting the corset off in five seconds, but showing a 19th century corset being removed by being unlaced. Loosening the laces, ok, fine, but there is nothing in this world that will take me out of a sex scene faster than the corset being removed improperly, and its even worse if the woman isn’t wearing a proper chemise underneath the corset.
    coughGangsofNewYorkcoughTheAlienistcough.
    A good antidote to this is in Penny Dreadful, when Dorian Gray and Brona Croft have sex for the first time and he unfastens the busk of her corset. So hot. And so much hotter because he clearly knew how to get a woman out of a corset properly.

    Reply
    • Lady Hermina de Pagan

      OMG! YES!!! My favorite line from Hamilton is “hard to have intercourse over 4 sets of corsets.” referencing the actual corset, bodice, a jerkin and weskit….

      Reply

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