Shout-out to my homies who love the ’70s British costume dramas! I hadn’t watched Lillie (1978) the first time around, but dayum, I sure did get sucked into it recently, watching on Amazon Prime. Usually, I would balk at 13 one-hour episodes, but I was totally engrossed because Francesca Annis as the main character, Lillie Langtry, is so freakin’ good, you can’t look away.
It doesn’t hurt that the costumes by Frances Tempest and Linda Mattock are gorgeous. The story spans Langtry’s entire adult life from age 16 in 1869 to her death in 1929, and yes, the costumes do match all the decades in between. OK, the first episode with Annis portraying Lillie as a 16-year-old (Annis was in her 30s) stretches credulity, but the costumes are appropriate to the period, at least. These are skin-out, head-to-toe historically accurate as they could be in 1978 Victorian ensembles in every scene on every actor, even the random extras, and the styles and fit are exquisite.
With such a visual feast, there’s nothing clunky to distract from the performances, which are equally fine. Annis’ Langtry is ambitious and capricious, driven by a mix of romantic desire and capitalistic greed. She wants the finer things in life but she also wants love; she wants it all, and she believes she can get it in her own fashion. This Langtry is definitely a product of her own times, not an anachronistic feminist icon. She is incredibly strong and independent, but she makes choices that seem self-defeating, even backwards, from a modern point of view.
Lillie Langtry by Sarony, 1882
As Annis told the New York Times:
“The more I read about Lillie Langtry, the more amazing she seemed — and the more I wanted the opportunity to play a woman who was in control and not intimidated by the society she lived in. … Lillie Langtry is a born succeeder. She was 100 percent successful and always in control of her life. She was very intelligent and she was an extraordinary worker, with an unbelievable capacity for enjoying herself … People say to me, did you find Lillie Langtry interesting because she was the first women’s libber. Actually, she wasn’t that at all. Lillie Langtry was an unashamed elitist. The women’s movement is much more democratic. It has to do with all women. Lillie was out for herself.”
Lillie’s successes are often her own, such as on the stage, but her love life tends to bring her despair. The big exception is her affair with the Prince of Wales (played by Denis Lill), which gives her social status and a genuine friendship that she relies upon throughout the years.
Her other wise choice in men, although perhaps because he’s not a romantic entanglement, is Oscar Wilde (Peter Egan). They become friends when she first arrives in London, and despite a few tiffs, Langtry remains one of Wilde’s few friends through his trial and until his death. She speaks movingly of his terrible treatment by society after the trial and seems not to be bothered about Wilde’s homosexuality.
Both of these friendships form the backbone of Lillie’s social circle, along with fellow ‘professional beauty’ Patsy Cornwallis-West (Jennie Linden), yet lovers come and go. Even Lillie’s relationship with her daughter (out of wedlock) is not as strong as these friends.
Costumes in Lillie (1978)
Wherein I try to catalog all the gowns worn by Francesca Annis … whoo-boy, this project took me WEEKS of screencapping. I had to leave out all of the dressing gowns/nightgowns and stage costumes she wore, since the former were usually sitting and the later were often moving, and really, I was getting tired. The quality of Amazon Prime’s version of Lillie is not great, and it will vary depending on your internet connectivity, so thus my images aren’t fantastic. But I hope this gives you a hint at what an amazing production it was.
Oh, and I solely focused on the costumes for Lillie Langtry. There are equally excellent outfits for the other female characters, both named and extras. Plus the male suits are quite fine, ranging from the dandified Wilde to the formal court garb of Bertie to casual American reporters and everything in between.
Looking at Langtry’s gowns, just consider the massive amount of work to create all of these historical costumes. They have structure and substance with correct corsetry, boning, bustles, and petticoats. Check out the details — the fabric prints, patterns, and colors mimic period styles, and gowns are trimmed with beading, lace, embroidery, and fringe appropriate to the eras and in attractive proportions. The hairstyles suit the periods, and characters wear period hats, jewelry, cloaks, and shoes, plus there are appropriate bags, parasols, and fans. This is a textbook example of how to do it right, and that the level of quality is maintained over 13 episodes spanning six decades is stunning. So don’t hold my sometimes shitty screencaps against the series ;)
Episode 1 – Horse Riding
We first see Lillie as a teenager riding a horse along the beach, wearing boy’s clothes, her hair flowing free.
Episode 1 – White Print Day Dress
Purple piping all over the bodice of the dress. Hair down because she’s 16 in 1869.
Episode 1 – White Ballgown
Mom takes Lillie to London for the first time, so she gets fitted for a ballgown.
Pleated bertha, ruffled tucker.
At the ball, the fancy ladies snicker, considering her gown old-fashioned. I guess because of that bertha and the flowers?
Episode 1 – Green Dotted Day Dress
Seen inside, the fabric looks blue-grey.
Outside, on a boat, it’s revealed as olive green.
Episode 1 – Bridesmaid Gown
White satin for her brother’s wedding.
Episode 1 – White Ballgown
At the wedding reception, where she impresses Edward Langtry. This is a more mature and fashionable ballgown than what she wore in London.
Episode 1 – Wedding Suit
And she’s off! She and Edward are getting married. This would be 1874.
Smart hat. Embroidery on the jacket.
Lovely early bustle lines of the jacket.
Episode 2 – Wedding Suit
Same outfit (there are plenty of re-wears in the series), but here you can see that the jacket has POCKETS!!! Who does that for TV?!?! Amazing!!!
Episode 2 – Pale Blue Bustle Gown
Tone-on-tone stripe fabric. Light brown/tan bows.
Ruffles at neck, sleeves, and along the bodice’s lower edge.
Period seamlines. Lovely bow and peplum at back.
Episode 2 – Purple Bustle Gown
Zig-zag trim in dark velvet ribbon, plus pleated trim, plus bows!
Such a great early 1870s shape.
Wee bow in the back. Great hairstyle.
Episode 2 – Dark Dinner Gown
Lillie is barely in this scene, and even when I lightened the pix, I can’t tell what color her gown is — dark purple or maroon?
Can barely see the basque waist and button front.
Episode 2 – Tan Traveling Outfit
Episode 2 – Mourning Dress
Finally, Lillie wears the little black dress she’ll become famous for. The plain look sets off her natural beauty and attracts attention in London.
She’s in mourning for her brother. Her husband (played by Anton Rodgers) is a dweeb.
Episode 3 – Mourning Evening Gown
For her first high-society party, she wears mourning and stands out in a sea of pastels.
Episode 3 – Mourning Dress
The same mourning dress as in episode 2, here she’s sitting for the famous portrait by Millais.
A Jersey Lillie by John Everett Millais, 1878
Episode 3 – Dark Blue Dress
Not quite mourning, but still sober and somber.
Episode 3 – White Ballgown
For her first grand society ball, she wears glittering white.
The trained bustle swirls when she dances.
Episode 4 – Pink Gown
She’s surprised at home, so her hair’s down.
Episode 4 – Mourning Evening Gown
Lillie is still making a point of re-trimming and re-wearing her mourning gowns at public events.
Episode 4 – Riding Habit
Proper hat and veil.
Hard to get a good screencap of a moving rider, but that’s a dark blue velvet gown.
Episode 5 – Cream & Brown Bustle Gown
In this episode, Lillie casts off mourning garb, becomes the Prince of Wales’ mistress, & gains a noticeable wardrobe upgrade.
Check out the pin-tucking detail on this gown! Stunning.
Plus the fabric has a subtle tone-on-tone stripe.
Episode 5 – Green Stripe Evening Gown
Can’t see anything of this gown except the neckline, & that pleated trim.
But I found this promo image showing more of the dress, including never-seen-on-screen fringe trim on the back!
Episode 5 – White Traveling Bustle Gown
Lillie returns to Jersey to visit her parents. Take a look at, not only her bustle, but her mother’s.
The front of her gown features pleated trim.
Episode 5 – White Ruffled Bustle Gown
She wears this dress in the garden. It has eyelet lace trim and a subtle stripe.
Episode 5 – Pale Green Gown
This is a really lovely, yet hard to screencap, princess gown in a pale, celadon shade.
She has a coordinating parasol, bag, hat, and gloves.
Episode 5 – White Ruffled Gown
Lace edging, satin-trimmed organdy ruffles, oh my.
Episode 5 – Pink Evening Gown
Probably more accurate to call it a reception gown or a dinner gown, but I can’t remember the multitude of levels of formality.
Cream silk with pink flowers, accented with solid pink swags.
Episode 5 – Green Print Suit
Cream and green tapestry-like print with green velvet accents.
Toque hat trimmed with ribbon and flowers.
Episode 5 – Blue Stripe Suit
Just seen from the waist up. Snazzy wide lapels.
Episode 6 – Pale Stripe Evening Gown
Can’t quite tell what the colors are — pale yellow & green? pale gold & silver? There’s also a floral woven into the stripe, which is so very Victorian, it hurts.
Episode 6 – White Lace & Blue Bow Bustle Gown
At tea with artsy friends, Lillie is at the far left. The pointed bodice is piped at the bottom and topped with lace & bows.
Found a promo image more clearly showing the hat & the blue piping & bows.
Episode 6 – Lavender Ballgown
With Bertie. Lillie wears lacy lavender trimmed in flowers.
Episode 6 – Grey-Green Suit
Another hard-to-define color. But the floral stripe feels of the period, along with the fringe trim at the bodice’s lower edge, and the contrasting floral waistcoat insert.
Detail of the stripe fabric & neckline soutache embroidery.
Episode 6 – White Riding Habit
Less practical, more fancy.
Tiny bit of what may be drawn threadwork on the bodice.
Episode 6 – Court Presentation Gown
Bertie arranges for Lillie to be presented to Queen Victoria, so she has a formal white trained gown made.
Yeah, those are metal grommets & probably should be hand-sewn. Not perfect!
Ostrich feathers for her hair.
Three seconds with Her Majesty.
Episode 6 – Yellow Stripe Bustle
So much going on here – stripes, solid sleeves, ruffled lace trim, those flappy ribbon things at the sides! And yet this dress is on-screen for a hot second!
Pinstripe yellow, at that.
Episode 6 – White Satin Bustle Gown
Lillie (left) wears this gown in the next episodes styled with different collars & headgear.
Episode 6 – Harlequin Costume
Exquisite Victorian fancy dress!
Episode 7 – White Lace & Blue Bow Bustle Gown
Same gown as above, but full pic shows the smocked skirt, a very 1880s style.
Episode 7 – Vignette
For an event, Lillie portrays a character in one of John Everett Millais’ paintings. Here’s the painting shown in the series.
The actual painting — “Effie Deans” by John Everett Millais (illustrating a scene from Walter Scotts novel The Heart of Midlothian), 1877.
Lillie in the vignette portraying the painting.
Episode 7 – Tan Lace Bustle Gown
The lace & floral motifs are a bit OTT, but that’s also Victorian.
Episode 7 – Pink Bustle Gown
Seen outdoors, this gown looks very pale pink, almost white.
Indoors, it’s revealed to be a peachy pink.
Episode 7 – Blue & White Stripe Bustle Gown
Love the multi-directional use of stripes in the skirt.
Episode 7 – White Satin Bustle Gown
The same white satin gown as above, but a better look at the front with the lace overlay.
Episode 7 – Rust Evening Gown
Only worn for a brief scene.
Check out the sequined beading around the neck.
Episode 8 – Ivory Maternity Gown
Lillie becomes pregnant – the series says her child’s father is Prince Louis of Battenberg, though more recent scholarship suggests otherwise.
Nice smocking detail.
Episode 8 – Brown Maternity Gown
OK, this one’s just a big sack.
Episode 8 – White Embroidered Bustle Gown
Mere days after giving birth, she’s in this corseted gown.
Gorgeous black embroidery along the center front, coordinating with simple black trim at the wrists.
Episode 8 – Cream Ballgown
She swiftly returns to society, leaving her daughter in Jersey with her parents.
Damask gown with beading across the bodice.
Episode 8 – Copper Smocked Bustle Gown
Just couldn’t get a good pic of this detailed gown. The bodice is smocked at the center front & the skirt is polonaised at the sides. It’s made in lovely shades of copper & brown.
Episode 8 – Black & White Stage Debut Gown
I’m only including her first stage costume because it’s contemporary dress & because it’s stripey!
Black & white goodness!
Episode 8 – Striped Dinner Dress
Can hardly see any of this gown in this scene, but it’ll show up in the next episode, also briefly, at another dinner.
Barely used here, the gown was worn by Faye Dunaway in Ellis Island (1984) & by Angelina Jolie in Original Sin (2001). Look at all that skirt detail never shown in this miniseries!
Episode 9 – Dark Blue Bustle Gown
Dots & embroidered trim for Lillie’s entrance to America.
Episode 9 – Sparkly Black Dinner Dress
I don’t think we ever see more of this gown! Just a bit of sparkly sleeve.
Episode 9 – Green Bustle Gown
Elaborate gown with contrasting pale green bamboo patterned silk ‘waistcoat,’ cuffs, & bustle.
Full 1880s bustle.
Episode 9 – Burgundy Bustle Outfit
She enters the room wearing this matching capelet – check out the amazing velvet/chenille fringe! Did that come off an antique or what?
Then her gown is revealed — figured burgundy with gold wheat-pattern contrast & burgundy satin sleeves.
Episode 9 – Pale Green Print Bustle Gown
Scrolled green print, green velvet cuffs, pleated chiffon trim.
Peplum lies atop a solid green bustle.
Episode 9 – Green Beaded Bustle Gown
Another green gown, this one in a more tailored style.
With elaborate green beading along the collar.
Episode 9 – Pale Sparkly Evening Gown
I can’t decide if this gown is very pale green, icy blue, or cream. It’s different in every light.
Bustled back with Bertie.
Pretty sure that’s a zipper.
Elaborate beading, but this is the one costume in the whole series that I really cannot stand. I just looks like a fugly 1980s pageant gown to me!
Episode 9 – Blue Print Bustle Gown
This is such a pretty, feminine gown.
Solid blue polonaise skirt with print fabric ‘tailed’ bodice.
Trimmed in lace & bows.
Episode 9 – Corset
This is from a scene in her stage dressing room, the only time we see Lillie half-dressed. NO CHEMISE, UGH. Everything looks so good from the outside :(
Yup, nothing under that corset. SHAME.
Episode 10 – White Gown With Embroidered Capelet
She doesn’t take the capelet off, so we don’t see much more of the dress. I couldn’t match it up with any other white dress worn during this period of the show.
The embroidered silk is beautiful, as is the hat.
Episode 10 – Cream Dinner Dress
Beautiful swagged detail across the bodice & skirt.
But if you look closely, there appears to be an adjustable bra strap showing! It’s noticeable throughout this scene. I guess it could be for a slip or camisole, but it’s definitely modern.
Episode 10 – Brown & Green Suit
Lovely paisley-ish waistcoat, coordinates with the hat.
Episode 10 – Green & White Satin Bustle Gown
This might have been a stage costume, which would explain why her hair is down & she’s wearing heavy makeup.
But I had to include it for the aggressive bustle.
Episode 10 – Lace Bustle Gown
Another very pale green gown, this one with lace at center front & in the skirt.
Ruched insets in the sleeves, swags at the neck, & bows at the cuffs & shoulders.
Episode 10 – Plaid Shirtwaist
Aside from riding habits, this outfit is the most sporty Lillie gets, here with American Freddie Gebhard (Michael Shannon).
Episode 10 – Purple & Black Evening Gown
I wish this showed up better on screen!
There’s just a hint of it when she plays cards with Lillian Russell (Christina Greateaux).
Episode 10 – Pink & Grey Scalloped Gown
This is another gown I actively dislike. It’s just so fussy, & I think the materials look cheap, even though the style has all the hallmarks of the era.
A lot of work went into those scalloped & dagged edges with their contrast piping. The overskirt has them too.
Even a neck cutout. So much work for such an ugly gown.
Episode 10 – Yellow Gown
She doesn’t wear yellow often; it can be a hard color for redheads & probably didn’t photograph well. But there’s still a ton of detail in this gown & the hat.
Episode 10 – Cleopatra Stage Costume
I’m only including this stage costume because it’s a rare outfit in the series reproduced from an actual image of Lillie Langtry, aside from the portrait of her in black.
Lillie Langtry as Cleopatra by W. & D. Downey, 1891
The crown is different, but the earrings are pretty close.
Episode 10 – Gold Evening Gown
This is easily my favorite of her evening gowns. It’s so glamorous, so period, & has such wonderful details.
Let me take a minute to mention the hair decorations – these too are accurate reproductions with a jeweled piece holding a fine feather spray, & each one matches the gown & jewelry.
Early 1890s, the bustle has shrunk to just a suggestion, but it’s there in a pouf of gold gauze.
Episode 10 – Lavender Suit
Pleated hat brim.
Lace blouse, ruffled neckpiece.
The silhouette has changed for the decade, as clear in this suit.
Episode 11 – Black Evening Gown
No, I didn’t have time to research the etiquette of a commoner wearing a tiara during this period, so have at it in the comments!
The beaded net trim on the bodice is divine.
Episode 11 – White Gown With Huge Sleeves
It’s so very 1890s with puffy sleeves & a diamond-shaped waist.
The waist isn’t just a belt, it’s more of a vest.
Made of cream-colored lace.
Episode 11 – Burgundy Satin Gown
Satin sleeves, satin floral vest inset, solid bodice, lace trim, & beading.
Flattering wrap-around style.
The sleeve pattern is pleating, which is matched on skirt side panels that are trimmed same as the bodice.
Episode 11 – Black Day Dress
A simple dress that didn’t show up very well on-screen. Can just barely see lines of satin ribbon trim. Note watch brooch, which Lillie refers to for the time.
Episode 11 – Peach Day Dress
Peach & white print with lace & a big peach sash.
Huge lace collar over puffy sleeves.
Episode 11 – Tan & Lace Suit
Looks like almost the entire underskirt is white lace.
More puffy sleeves & lace collars. Also, period hairstyle & toque hat with pleated trim & feathers.
Lace collar over lace inset.
Episode 11 – Red Evening Gown
Brief, dark scene. Red satin gown with beaded net straps.
Episode 11 — Ruffled Tan Capelet
At the horse races.
Episode 12 – Black Gown & Cape
Great hat with striped ribbon. Also it becomes obvious in this episode that Lillie is aging & putting on weight.
The gown under the cape is accented with ivory lace.
Episode 12 – Pale Green Day Dress
Worn outdoors with an ostrich stole, straw hat, & parasol.
Indoors, the color is vibrant & the insertion lace on the collar can be seen.
Episode 12 – Dark Green Gown
Richly patterned collar.
Asymmetrical curved buttoned bodice.
Episode 12 – Light Blue & Black Lace Evening Gown
Wide lace across the bodice, & lace trimming the pleated sleeves. Beaded motifs accent the bodice & are used to create a neckpiece.
Wide lace extends across the back of the bodice, plus more of the beaded motifs.
Episode 12 – Cream Suit
Precisely pleated sleeves.
Episode 12 – Blue & Lace Gown
Lace-covered hat with dramatic feathers.
Beaded, embroidered motifs down the front of the gown & on the cuffs.
Episode 12 – Pearled Evening Gown
This ivory gown has rows of pearls at the sleeve heads, on the sleeves, & across the bodice, plus Lillie wears pearl necklaces.
The left side has a floral corsage.
Episode 12 – Lavender Suit
Kind of fussy with all those details, but of the period.
Episode 12 – Peach Dinner Dress
Briefly seen, this gown has a floral bodice & skirt with chiffon sleeves & swags at the neck.
Episode 12 – White & Black Suit
The circle-pattern lace really elevates this suit from simple to WOW.
The motif is repeated on the skirt (even though it’s barely glimpsed in the show). Also note all the accessories – parasol, bag, gloves, stole, hat, jewelry.
Amazing tricorn hat with piping & feathers.
Episode 12 – Lace Blouse & Orange Skirt
A simple outfit worn when her daughter, Jeanne, gets engaged. Historically, this would have been somewhere around 1901-1902.
Episode 12 – Black Dotted Gown
Black dotted net over white satin creates a pattern at the center of this bodice & is accented by beaded motifs, lace, & ribbon.
Episode 12 – White Lace Gown
A confection of a hat.
Dripping with lace all over.
Episode 12 – Mourning Gown
The final episode opens in May 1910, at Edward VII’s death. Queen Alexandra has let Lillie in to see the body before the funeral (reportedly, she allowed a small number of friends do this, so it’s plausible). Lillie wears a huge hat, & her veil has delicate black trim.
Episode 13 – Light Blue Gown
Looking a bit frumpy with old-age makeup & padding.
But that’s a fabulous hat!
Episode 13 – Cream Lace Gown
SO MANY FEATHERS!!!
Also, a ton of lace.
Episode 13 – White & Tan Suit
The embroidered medallions on the collar, cuffs, & belt are very Art Deco.
Huge hat, piled with wide figured ribbon & flowers.
Episode 13 – Black Evening Gown
Lots of beading & embroidery.
Episode 13 – Black & White Fur Coat
Sailing to America again, in a fabulous fur, that’s weirdly lined in blue floral.
Episode 13 – Black Beaded Kimono
For a rather tawdry scene at a dime-a-dance parlor, Lillie wears a beaded kimono & loads of sparkly jewelry.
Episode 13 – Teal & Lace Dress
Back at home, she goes more Erte in a wrap-around silk gown.
Episode 13 – White Lace Gown
This white gown has a tiered lace skirt.
The top is beaded with pearls, & she wears multiple pearl necklaces.
Episode 13 – Blue Plaid Gown
Age & memories begin to catch up with Lillie in the 1920s.
But she still surrounds herself with luxury, including elegant styles & updated accessories.
Episode 13 – Black Evening Gown & Coat
At the casino in Monaco, jeweled to the hilt.
Even at the end of her life, men fight over her!
Episode 13 – White Lace Suit
Toque hat & satin bow.
Fashionable dropped waistline.
Episode 13 – Red Velvet Gown
Reconciling with her daughter & meeting her grandchildren. Beautiful accessories.
WHEW. That’s 100 costumes worn by Lillie Langtry in this TV miniseries — not even half the supposed 230 costumes Francesca Annis wore! I don’t know where there rest of them went because I swear I only left out maybe 20 (stage outfits and dressing gowns). Maybe that was the count of costume changes or something? Because some outfits were worn in multiple scenes / episodes, sometimes with small changes like a different hat or worn under a capelet. IDK, but I spent a hell of a lot of time already, and I’m out!
What’s your favorite costume in Lillie (1978)?