SNARK WEEK: Valmont (1989) – Meh?


Valmont, the 1989 adaptation of the book Dangerous Liaisons, was directed by Miloš Forman with costumes designed by Theodor Pištěk, the same team who brought you Amadeus (1984). I thought I had seen this movie back in the day, and maybe I had but forgotten, because it all seemed new to me. And you guys — I was disappointed! Trystan led me to believe that this was going to be a total shit-show. And compared to 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, okay, yes it is. But compared to Amadeus? It’s waaaay better.

I know the voting has been hot and heavy today over Braveheart vs. Valmont, and you may have already voted. But I just got done rewatching (and screencapping) Valmont, and I gotta run it down for you! So apologies if this seems last minute, because it is.

Director Forman started on Valmont before Dangerous Liaisons was announced, but he (and the studio) decided to persevere. According to Roger Ebert’s review/interview with the director, Valmont‘s difference was going to be the fact that it would have “elaborate interior and exterior sets that could not be rushed.” Poor Forman hadn’t seen DL when he was doing press for Valmont, which is good. Because while you can tell that money was spent on Valmont, DL has it beat, hands down, in the costume department, both in terms of quality and accuracy.

You can’t help comparing the two films. Dangerous Liaisons has stunning performances from all of the actors, amazing locations, and jaw-dropping costumes. It takes the story very seriously and darkly. Meanwhile, Valmont has some good performances (Annette Bening as Mme de Merteuil, Fairuza Balk as Cécile, and Sian Phillips as Mme de Volanges) and some not-so-great (Colin Firth as Valmont is sometimes good, sometimes embarrassing). This makes the story much lighter and frothier and changes the ending to be less tragic. The costumes are a mixed bag, with a few nice ones and a lot of “the hell?,” while the hair is Not Good.

But I think the other thing to compare this movie to is Amadeus, and Valmont is light years better than that one! Amadeus has practically no redeeming costumes and TRAGIC hair, while at least Valmont has a few decent things!

But, onwards. Let’s look at Valmont‘s costumes in-depth:

Madame de Merteuil

Played by Annette Bening, Madame de Merteuil is a scheming seductress who won’t stop laughing. It mostly works, giving the character a lighter feel than Glenn Close’s version in DL.

Her first costume is her traveling outfit: a pink satin double-breasted jacket with a dusty pink brocade-y petticoat. I thought the satin was pretty, I liked the double-breasted effect and all the buttons. And I love pink accessorized with black!


Madame de Merteuil (left) in her traveling outfit.


Princess seams in back, but otherwise nice!

The costume is in the collection of the Tirelli costume house. I assume that means they made it?

The costume is in the collection of the Tirelli costume house. I assume that means they made it?


It’s much more pink and less peach on screen.

Next she has a weird stripey number for Cécile’s music recital:


The pink, white, and grey stripes aren’t bad themselves, and I think the puffy sleeves are going for something like this painting of Madame de Pompadour (which Dangerous Liaisons also referenced):

Madame de Pompadour, la main sur le clavier du clavecin by Francois Boucher, c. 1750. Musee du Louvre.

Madame de Pompadour, la main sur le clavier du clavecin by François Boucher, c. 1750. Musee du Louvre.

But the execution isn’t good:


The stomacher is clearly sewn in to the dress, rather than being a separate underlayer. This is a problem throughout the film.


THE BACK: laced closed in the center back, when it should be pinned or otherwise attached over the stomacher in front. Princess seams, with the stripes laid out in a very Victorian pattern.


Note the shitty plastic pearl trim around the neckline and on the side seams.

Next we have this brownish or purpleish number, which I think is supposed to be Her Best Dress, because she wears it for some key, fancy scenes. It’s actually pretty shitty:


Again, we’ve got a sewn in stomacher. Worse, pretty much all of Merteuil’s dresses are either worn corset-less, or over a Victorian corset, because her boobs are lost somewhere under her bodice.


Where did my boobs go? Also, note lace clearly sewn around whole neckline. There’s no separate stomacher in there.


Center back closure, which is WRONG. Also, no lacing holes, which makes me think we’ve got our first potential ZIPPER sighting! Okay, it could be a hidden placket.


“My boobs are under here, if you’d care to look, mi’lord.” The solid fabric looks particularly acetate-y.

I admit I liked this stripey purple number, just because the fabric was really pretty. Clearly a very 18th-century-esque brocaded floral stripe:


Lovely fabric! Piped neckline is very Victorian. She has a slightly better boob placement in this dress than in the previous.


Angled stripe placement on the bodice is very Victorian, although it’s pretty.


We never see the back, but it HAS to have a center back closure, as there’s no front closure as there should be. I’m not sure if you can see it, but there was some nice fly-fringe-esque trim on the sleeve ruffles.

Next we go back to pink for a super theatrical sort-of-robe à la française costume:


Pink satin robe over a pink and white striped stomacher and petticoat. I actually really like the color/fabric combo, and while the angled stripes on the stomacher are questionable, I think they’re really pretty.


That being said, here we’ve got another sewn-in stomacher (bad!) with a piped neckline (naughty!). The buttons down the front are cute, although I think they’re referencing a buttoned compere front, in which case they would be functional. Again, better boob placement — corset? boning?


The back is crazy. Okay, it’s got the layered hanging pleats of a française, but the lace and bow are random and tacky!

Then there’s the weird, super flat-front dress:

I just keep thinking there's cardboard in the front of this sucker! Also, that very diamond shape on the overgown is weird. Again, note sewn in stomacher.

I just keep thinking there’s cardboard in the front of this sucker! Also, that very diamond shape on the overgown is weird. Again, note sewn in stomacher.

A quickie française worn at the opera:


Piping: bad. Sewn in stomacher: bad, but I’m getting desensitized.


Note the weirdness in the center back. I feel like maybe the française back has two flaps, and if we open them up, we’re going to find a zipper (or, at best, lacing).


Then there’s her randomly hanging out at home in an 1890s cheongsam. Clearly trying to reference 18th-century Orientalist lounging robes, like banyans. But, so wrong for this era. Especially with the hair, which we’ll talk about in a minute.


Finally, she wears some kind of black dresses to Valmont’s funeral and Cécile’s wedding, but you can’t really see them:


I liked the black & silver lace cap!


Grumpy marquise is grumpy. I want the jeweled spray worn by the woman to her left/our right.


Poor, poor Colin Firth. Apparently he was young and new in his career. I’m sure he thought, “Yes! The director of Amadeus! This film is going to ROCK!” Little did he know…

I’m not going to go through all of Valmont’s costumes, just give you some general thoughts:


Some of Firth’s outfits seem fine.


I like this!


Others are a LOT of look.


Not doing it for me.


He has some shitty cravats.


Why the sash?


Cécile de Volanges

Played quite well by Fairuza Balk. She’s younger than Uma Thurman (same role in Dangerous Liaisons), so while the whole seduction by Valmont is played more lightly, it’s actually more creepy.

Her first real dress, worn to the opera:


Nice fabric. Princess seams: no. Clearly no corset, but at least her boobs are in the right place.


Round waistline in back, center back lacing closure: NO. VERY NAUGHTY.

At the music recital, she wears a stripey pink robe a l’anglaise with the skirts looped up:


Sewn-in stomacher: yawn. Stripe placement is good.


Very un-18th-century stripes in back… and center back lacing, AGAIN.

Later she hangs with Merteuil in this light blue dress with red bows:


Pretty fabric and dress!


Oh dear…


Then there’s her music lesson jacket, in which we can see some of the construction problems underlying many of these dresses:


A cute little jacket, what’s not to love?


Oh. We’ve got unnecessary, un-period piping, a sewn-in stomacher, which is all clunky and overlapping on TOP on her left/our right (it should go underNEATH).


Here we can see the faux-stomacher (bad!) closes with hooks and eyes (plausible) on top (no!) of the gown.


At least it’s cute from the back!

Madame de Merteuil attempts to get Cécile and Danceny into bed by putting Cécile into a whooooore outfit:


As she’s being undressed, this is the one glimpse we ever get of corsetry in this film. The camera is very careful never to pan lower so we can really see what’s being worn here. I suspect this corset is only here for show and isn’t being worn under the dresses — or it’s got a Victorian shape.


Hoooooor outfit laces along the side front with bows. Sweetheart neckline is very 1980s.


Sure, why not!

Merteuil takes Cécile to the country to hang with Valmont and company. Cécile wears this:


It’s the famous, fabulous Scalamandre strawberry brocade! Too bad it’s got a weirdly plain, sewn-in stomacher.


AND a round waistline, AND center back laced closure.


The dress unfastened in back, showing us more of those fabulously un-period center back lacing holes.

Cécile wears this dusty pink taffeta française for a few scenes:


Lovely fabric, lovely cut!


A brief glimpse down inside of Cécile’s dress. I think we’re seeing the facing on her stomacher, here, not a corset. Which explains a lot.

cecile18 cecile19

At Valmont’s funeral, she wears a dark blue moire jacket with a super Victorian capelet:

cecile22 cecile23 cecile24

And finally, Cécile’s wedding dress:


Lovely fabric!


Too bad about the princess seams.


Madame de Tourvel

Super sweet, super kind, very chaste and virtuous. Meg Tilly does a fine job with the role, nothing to complain about, although Michelle Pfeiffer has a special spark in Dangerous Liaisons that gives her the win.

When we first meet her, she’s wearing a dress very clearly inspired by another of Pompadour’s gowns:

Madame de Pompadour by Francois Boucher, 1758. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1758. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


The fabric looks like shitty polyester lining. There are princess seams. And the sleeves have a weird, super spaced out blue block print on them. I like the parasol!


Center back lacing!

For evenings, she wears this robe à la française:


Nicely done, although the stomacher looks sewn in.


The skirt shouldn’t be joined in front but split open, nor should it be looped up at the side fronts but at the side backs.


She also has this dress, which she wears to a picnic with Valmont. I SHOULD love the fabric, but it’s so boring that not only did I refuse to screencap the back, I almost forgot to post it here:

zzzzz wha'?

zzzzz wha’?

In this version, Tourvel gets to live, so she visits Valmont’s grave in a nice black jacket with fur trim:

tourvel7 tourvel8 tourvel9

Madame de Volanges

Cécile’s mother is much less ditzy in this film version, although why she hangs with Merteuil, I have no idea.

She wears this grey pet-en-l’air in a few scenes:


Lovely! No complaints here.

volanges2 volanges3

For Cécile’s music recital, she wears a burgundy damask in a VERY 16th-century pattern with gold lace:


Nice color combo.


Pretty! Also, actual separate stomacher??!!

She worries about her daughter in this number, which is the best example I have of the weirdest fact: Madame de Volanges either has amazing boobs or is wearing proper stays. WHY is she the only character to 1) get proper underwear and 2) have her boobs out? Wouldn’t you want Merteuil, of all people, to look all hot and cleavage-y? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.


Sewn-in stomacher with piping, but who cares, because HER TITS AREN’T AT HER WAIST! Hallelujah!


Okay, that’s an unnecessary amount of chemise showing on her arms. But, nice fabric, lovely pleats in back — NO BACK CLOSURE!!


She gets pissy about Danceny in this stripey burgundy number:


Again, actual stomacher worn UNDER the gown! Miracle of miracles!


Unnecessary back waist piping, but hey, no back closure!


She freaks out about her daughter, oh and goes to the opera, in this “bizarre” (as in pattern, not as in judgement) damask:

volanges11 volanges12

And finally, she Shows Merteuil at Cécile’s wedding in this blue and gold damask with lots of gold lace number:


Madame de Rosemonde

Valmont’s elderly aunt draws the short stick, as all of her costumes are DIRE.

First, you’ve got shitty acetate moire with unnecessary lace placement:

"I seem to have misplaced my boobs in this hideous dress, dearie."

“I seem to have misplaced my boobs in this hideous dress, dearie.”

She goes to dinner in this monstrosity:


Again, cardboard stomacher??!!


Did they run out of time to fit anything on her??

She lounges around the estate in this semi-decent stripey number:


I’m hoping you won’t notice my boob-waist under this fichu!


This hat is hideous.

Her mourning dress is acceptable, because you can’t really see it:


And she rocks a jewel-toned tricorn at Cécile’s wedding:


The Maid

Shitty maid costume is shitty. That's all.

Shitty maid costume is shitty. That’s all.

Finally, let’s talk hair/wigs:

Merteuil wears these weird high crown buns, which are MAYBE referencing 1760s English styles, but I doubt it. I do like the curl/wave texture.

Merteuil wears these weird high crown buns, which are MAYBE referencing 1760s English styles, but I doubt it. I do like the curl/wave texture.

Cecile pretty much lives in these giant braided bun looks. It's TOTALLY not 18th century. It'd be perfect for 1870s!

Cécile pretty much lives in these giant braided bun looks. It’s TOTALLY not 18th century. It’d be perfect for 1870s!


Clearly the filmmakers had access to good reference material, because the male servants get fabulous powdered wigs in very accurate styles.

Gercourt also gets a decent 18th century wig.

Gercourt also gets a decent 18th-century wig.

Although may I please point out just how ludicrous it is that this whole scheme is put in motion because Mme de Merteuil is pissed about getting dumped by principal Mr. Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

Although may I please point out just how ludicrous it is that this whole scheme is put in motion because Mme de Merteuil is pissed about getting dumped by principal Mr. Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

But poor, POOR Colin Firth. He doesn’t get a “wig,” no doubt because the filmmakers thought we wouldn’t find him attractive. But he does wear a WIG, and it’s a doozy:



Sometimes they’re combed, feathered, and arranged to one side. NOT 18TH CENTURY.


Sometimes they’re floppy and tousled. NOT 18TH CENTURY.


He has a super long, unstyled ponytail “queue” in back. Acceptable, but cheesy.


He never gets powder (unlikely), nor side rolls (NOT 18TH CENTURY).

Danceny gets a totally 1980s, layered all over, flopping in the eyes cut...

Danceny gets a totally 1980s, layered all over, flopping in the eyes cut…


With a random attempt at a queue (long hanging tail) which just ends up looking like the tails worn by guys in 1985.


Tourvel's hair is in an acceptable low crown bun.

Tourvel’s hair is in an acceptable low crown bun.

Volanges's hair is a good shape, even if it misses the details and should be powdered.

Volanges’s hair is a good shape, even if it misses the details and should be powdered.

Madame de Rosemonde's hair is COMPLETELY EDWARDIAN. That's a Gibson Girl updo, people.

Madame de Rosemonde’s hair is COMPLETELY EDWARDIAN. That’s a Gibson Girl updo, people.

This makes her a dead ringer for her biddy character in Edwardian-set "A Room With A View."

This makes her a dead ringer for her biddy character in Edwardian-set “A Room With a View.”

The minor character of the "Baroness" also has completely Edwardian hair. WHY??!!

The minor character of the “Baroness” also has completely Edwardian hair. WHY??!!


These random guys on the right seem to think they’re in a romance novel.


Oh, and I thought you’d like to see:

Gercourt and Cécile get married in front of “The King” and “The Queen.” I thought you’d like to see them:


No idea.


Louis XV?


17 Responses

  1. Trystan



    Ok, to recap:

    The rampant abuse of crafter’s lace should get this movie listed in the Frock Flicks Hall of Shame, along with the shitty fabrics overall. Movies don’t have to used real silks, but just don’t use crap that LOOKS so gawd-awful shiny & thin & pathetic. Kendra, you’re the fiber snob, I shouldn’t have to manufacture indignation for you here!

    And corsets! ‘Amadeus’ may have been about too much boob, but this movie is weirdly prudish in the costumes, but skeezy in the storyline. Kendra, I need more balanced disgust from you here. What’s your motivation?

    Finally, that is all you can say about the Great Tragedy of the Valmont Hair? What about your reputation, girl? I want a wailing & gnashing of teeth over all that bad, bad hair. Instead, it feels like an afterthought.

    I expect much more snark from you, young lady! Don’t make me tie you down & make you watch Braveheart.

    • Kendra

      BUT THAT’S THE PROBLEM! I wasn’t outraged! YOU promised that this was going to be a trainwreck. And sure, compared to Dangerous Liaisons, it was, costume-wise. But, I was entertained, and I actually LIKED some of the costumes, either aesthetically and/or historically.

      Meanwhile, Amadeus, which you LURVE, didn’t have ANYTHING I liked. Maybe the “Turkish” dress on the opera singer, but that’s a maybe.

      Also, I disagree that all of the fabrics were total crap! Okay yes, a few of them were (Merteuil’s brown dress, Tourvel’s white dress). But otherwise, they looked like quality to me!

      Maybe I just haven’t gotten enough sleep lately to muster enough outrage?

      • Joanne Renaud

        I’m with Trystan too. The first time I ever saw Valmont, I had just seen DL so it was going to be hard to impress me, even at the tender age of 14. And Valmont really bored me. I expected something more… entertaining… from the guy who brought us Amadeus. In fact, Valmont bored me so much I couldn’t even remember a single thing about it, except that I saw it.

        Many years later, I rewatched Valmont. Maybe it didn’t suck! Maybe it was actually good, I thought. But no. It was even duller than I remembered. They butchered the novel and everyone was miscast. And when is it supposed to be set? Is it the 1760s? The 1780s? WHERE ARE ALL THE PANNIERS?!

        The costumes of Amadeus are pretty dreadful, but Amadeus is so well-acted, well-directed and well-scripted that the costumes fall into the “good-shitty” category for me (if that makes sense). Whereas the costumes of Valmont, IMO, are just mediocre.

        • mmeberg

          Same! Same!

          Although I have to admit to luuuving this flick when I was 14, must’ve watched it dozens of times. So the awakening in my older age was rough, to say the least.

        • Kendra

          You do have a VERY good point — Valmont is very unspecific, mushy, throw-all-the-18th-century-into-a-blender costume-wise!

        • Amanda

          weighing in here, MANY years late.
          As someone who watched Valmont RIGHT AFTER I read this article (and A day after watching Dangerous Liasons AND the Korean Adaptation “Untold Scandal”) I was TWICE as disgusted by this film as I probably would have been anyway. I was NOT sufficiently prepared for the clusterfuck that was Firth’s hair. And the story? OMG the story. the Script was maybe the worst thing about it.

          ON the Subject of Valmont vs. Amadeus i’m leaning in favour of Amadeus because it is very consciously a-historical and the issues there were (mainly) conscious artistic choices.

  2. Loren

    I donno, I’m with Trystan on this one. Even though they both suck Amadeus seems slightly more accurate because of the boobage being in the right place. And I still have a soft spot for the “It’s Turkish!” ensemble.

  3. Isis

    I was lucky and saw this ovie when I was 18 so A. had just a very basic knowledge of 18th Century fashion and B. hadn’t seen DL yet. I remember enjoyingit hugely. I probably wouldn’t today…

  4. mmeberg

    Oh, and I completely blame this film for all those ‘cute’, matchy-matchy tricorns that ladies make and wear even when it’s clear they’re not sporting either a riding/hunting habit or a masquerade piece. You’re allowed one pet peeve, no?

  5. Jose

    Ugh! First time nor Anette Bening nor Colin Firth seem appealing to me I Would rather watch Meg Tilly’s (Tourvel) Carmilla from the same year a much better period entertaining piece (even if it’s a much shorter film)