TBT: Byron (2003)

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I don’t know if I’m really the right person to review the 2003 TV mini-series Byron, the Lord Byron biopic starring Jonny Lee Miller as the Romantic poet, as I’ve NEVER gotten into poetry and so don’t give a toss about him or any of the other Romantic poets. That being said, it popped up on Amazon, and I wanted something to watch, so watch it I did, so here’s my review! Feel free to disparage me in the comments.

The series focuses on Byron’s romantic entanglements, rather than his writings. I’m guessing if I were a Byron fan that might annoy me, but as someone who isn’t invested, it was all fine. It starts with Byron traveling in Greece, enjoying the supposedly indolent lifestyle of “The East” and getting his Orientalism — and bisexuality — on (note, although he’s shown briefly kissing a man, his bisexuality is mostly referred to; I’m not sure if that’s straight-washing him, or if he really did focus on boys in early life and girls later in life? That’s what Wikipedia makes it sound like).

2003 Byron

He comes back to England, publishes Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and there’s some hilarious scenes where he consciously plays the melodramatic poet. He becomes involved with portrayed-as-crazytown Lady Caroline Lamb — who, I’m guessing, may not have been quite this bipolar? You tell me. (There was a great Noble Blood podcast episode about her recently, check it out if you’re interested!).

2003 Byron

Most of the film focuses on his (supposed/possible) romantic relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and his doomed marriage to Anne Isabella (“Annabella”) Milbanke, in which he’s basically a total jerk:

2003 Byron

That’s Augusta (left) holding her daughter, possibly fathered by Byron, with Annabella (center). Awkward!

Then it’s on to Venice, ennui, and Greece where he dies — which was far too drawn out, in my opinion. I was perplexed that while the Shelleys briefly show up, there was NO trip to Switzerland/scary stories/Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. Okay, so this is about Byron, not Mary Shelley, but he was there and part of that whole thing!

Now, on to the costumes, which were designed by the great Jenny Beavan (A Room With a ViewImpromptuHowards EndJefferson in Paris, Sense and SensibilityEver AfterCasanova, and so much more); she won the Costume Design (Drama) category at the Royal Television Society Craft and Design Awards for this production.

Byron himself is in pretty standard Regency wear. He starts out, while traveling, with long, shaggy hair:

2003 Byron

Fast forward a few years, when he’s the toast of London. He crops his hair, and looks pretty spot-on to his portraits:

1813 portrait of Byron by Richard Westall, from Wikimedia Commons.

1813 portrait of Byron by Richard Westall, from Wikimedia Commons.

2003 Byron

Curl papers! Love!

The only real costume highlight is when he dresses in what he says is an ensemble he brought back from Albania, which is clearly referencing his portrait by Thomas Phillips:

1813 portrait of Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips, from Wikimedia Commons.

1813 portrait of Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips, from Wikimedia Commons.

2003 Byron

Quite well done!

2003 Byron

On to the women! Lady Caroline Lamb is pretty damn fabulous with her spiky cropped hair, totally perfect for the period and one of the better women’s “crop” hairstyles I’ve ever seen:

Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828), c. 1805, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828), c. 1805, via Wikimedia Commons.

2003 Byron

Caroline is all fashion-forward, arty, Orientalist.

2003 Byron

Her cropped hair, with the long pieces in back, is perfect in how it’s brushed forward.

2003 Byron

Part of the idea of the crop was that it was supposed to mimic guillotined heads, hence the choppy back.

2003 Byron

I’m always partial to black and white.

Half-sister/lover Augusta Leigh is played by Natasha Little, and she starts off all bubbly charm, but does a decent job showing her conflict and kindness. Her wardrobe is generally decent, but she wears her hair half-down a LOT, I think trying to show her approachable personality.

James Holmes, Augusta Byron (1783-1851), 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons.

James Holmes, Augusta Byron (1783-1851), 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons. I’m guessing late 1820s-early 1830s.

2003 Byron

This spencer had nice embroidery on the collar.

2003 Byron

This jacket seemed awfully low-waisted for the period.

2003 Byron

A nice evening ensemble, with hair up.

2003 Byron

Augusta’s “informal” hair. I did like the fabric on this dress!

Wife Annabella is portrayed as intellectual, kind, prim, and totally wrong for Byron. Dress-wise, she’s ALWAYS dressed the proper picture of a good Regency girl:

Charles Hayter, Portrait of Annabella Byron (nee Anne Isabella Milbanke) (1792-1860), 1812, National Portrait Gallery.

2003 Byron

Annabella is always dressed primly.

2003 Byron

This mask and veil (for a fancy dress party) was a rare departure for her.

2003 Byron

Her wedding outfit.

2003 Byron
2003 Byron

I thought this green dress had nice details.

2003 Byron

Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, who takes an interest in Byron (she has a GREAT line where, at their first tête-à-tête, he says something flirty about if she were younger; she responds with something like “If I were younger, dinner would have ended LONG ago”). She’s got a definite Orientalist vibe going:

George Romney, Portrait of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne (1749-1818), second half of the 18th c., Christie's

George Romney, Portrait of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne (1749-1818), second half of the 18th c., Christie’s. Sadly there’s no images of her that I can find from Byron’s era.

2003 Byron

Lovely ribbon.

2003 Byron

A Middle Eastern-inspired turban.

2003 Byron

I loved this mask!

Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli, Byron’s Italian lover, is very blond and pretty:

Lorenzo Bartolini, Portrait of Teresa Gamba Guiccioli, 1821-22, Museo civico (Prato).

2003 Byron

She basically lived in this pelisse-esque dress.

Mary Shelley is played by Sally Hawkins, and she gets one dowdy dress:

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Again, I can’t find an earlier image.

2003 Byron

Poor Mary!

And, side note:

 

 

Have you seen Byron?

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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.

16 Responses

  1. Roxana

    Bipolar probably explains Caro Lamb as well as anything can. The poor woman was not normal and the affair with Byron certainly didn’t help her mental balance.

    Reply
    • Constance

      I read a bio on William Lamb/Lord Melbourne and she was def bi-polar, at the least…they did not exaggerate her behavior…

      Reply
      • Roxana

        It’s hard to blame Byron for cutting and running. Melbourne on the other hand deserves all kinds of credit for standing by his wife.

        Reply
        • Constance

          Melbourne refused to divorce her despite severe family pressures…he was extremely loyal indeed…and never would turn his back on her no matter what she did or said. Very unusual for his day as he likely could have “put her away”.

          Reply
          • Janet Nickerson

            Her upbringing probably had a lot to do with Caro’s mental state. She was the niece of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her mother was Henrietta, Countess of Bessborourgh, known for her many love affairs, mainly with Lord Leveson-Gower, by whom she had two children (who later married Georgiana’s second daughter Harriet). Definitely need a program to keep track of all the folks in this menage!

            Reply
  2. Trystan L. Bass

    Oooo, I really liked this Byron (& you beat me to a full review of it, hah!). It paints him in a very sympathetic light, tho’ I suspect he was more of an asshole. And re: bisexuality, from what I’ve read, he was a dabbler & experimenter, willing to try anything once or twice. But he liked the ladies mostly.

    Reply
  3. Charity

    I pity any woman who got involved with this infamous cad. I suspect the assholian portrayal of him in “Mary Shelley” is a bit closer to the truth, unfortunately. Haven’t seen this. May or may not.

    Reply
  4. Colleen

    I’ve always seen cropped hair like how Lady Russell’s hair did in Persuasion (1995), and now I know there was an actual style it copied, and not at all the clean cut that she had.

    Reply
  5. Susan Pola Staples

    And he was the father of Lady Ada Lovelace, mathematician and inventor of the computer.
    I may have seen it. Don’t remember much but will watch again

    Reply
    • Sheryl

      Just a point of clarification: Ada Lovelace didn’t invent the computer. She was the first computer programmer. She programmed Charles Babbage’s invention – the Babbage engine – which is considered to be the first computer.

      Reply
  6. Alexander Sanderson

    I also felt that it was sadly lacking in the Villa Diodati episode, I feel that it was an important moment for most of the group and inspired two important works ‘The Vampyre’ by Byron’s physician as well as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ : and for Byron it was a period when he had been forced to leave England and live in exile in Switzerland after some major scandals (including several allegations of Sodomy) at home so it must have had some effect on him.
    I do also feel that his bi-sexuality was seriously under played – it was more prevalent when he was younger, but he continued to have the odd affair with men through out his life – Shelley being the most obvious, although that seems to have been an on and off fling and mixed up with Byron’s affair with Claire Clairmont (Shelley’s sort of step sister in law type thing). But obviously his male affairs were less obvious for the simple reason that it was illegal and had to be hidden for safety. I have read of various free love episodes involving threesomes/foursomes and such like being mentioned; so that Switzerland episode, with them all enclosed together, must have really been quite interesting! Actually it sounds a tad like my university years!!! ;)

    Reply
  7. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Lord Byron’s separation from Annabella Byron was just horrible. According to the court records and gossip of the time, he forced himself on her right after giving birth. She claimed when he realized that she was unable to receive him “naturally” he used her “unnaturally”. As Ada grew older, Annabella forced her to study mathematics for long hours to steady her and to suppress her father’s influence.

    Reply
  8. Jose

    I see this Caroline and remember Sarah Miles playing her in that dreadful 1972 movie isn’t tooooo bad but it could be a lot better I remember her hair looking like I don’t know Anna karenina post illness but worse

    Reply
  9. Marie McGowan Irving

    I am a bit of a Byron fangirl, and I remember watching this at the time! I was really disappointed in the lack of the Villa Diodati in this, as it was effectively during a self-imposed exile due to the scandal around his divorce from Annabella, and the allegations made about Augusta were ruining her life and reputation. Basically, Byron never met a scandal he didn’t embrace and quite often let people believe things about him that were quite untrue because they added to his legend.

    Reply
  10. Roxana

    Byron is no favorite of mine. He introduced a particular kind of angsty, self involved, I’m-so-misunderstood hero/love interest that’s been afflicting romantic fiction ever since.

    Reply

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