TBT: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

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Anne Brontë’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848, was underrated at the time, but has been realized since as an early feminist masterpiece. And this 1996 three-part BBC production is a fine realization of the work.

Tara Fitzgerald plays idealistic, pious Helen, a young woman who marries wealthy, rakish Arthur Huntingdon (Rupert Graves). She thinks her love can reform him, but she’s quickly proven wrong. However, she bears him a son, who Huntingdon is determined to corrupt in his own image, and this drives Helen to desperate measures.

The story is told in flashback, as Helen has escaped her husband to live some distance away at Wildfell Hall, which she rents from a Mr. Lawrence (James Purefoy). In town, she meets Gilbert Markham (Toby Stephens), who becomes smitten with the mysterious woman.

With this frock-flicky star-studded cast and costumes designed by the always-excellent Rosalind Ebbutt (The Buccaneers, Downton Abbey, Victoria), this is one is worth watching and rewatching! It’s currently available on Amazon Prime, so don’t miss it.

1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Innocent Helen at her debut, trying to find a husband. Love the sheer oversleeves on that late 1820s gown!

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

She falls in love with the rakish Huntington.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Yeah, happy wedding won’t last long.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

More modest riding clothes for the young family.

1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

All kinds of 1830s wacky sleeves and pelerine capelet here!

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

When Helen leaves her husband, she poses as a widow, wearing appropriately somber garb.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

The story rather radically (for the time) shows her as a painter, earning her own living by her brush.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Mr. Lawrence cuts a fine figure and his relationship with his tenant draws suspicion.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Gilbert Markham, gentelman farmer, in fine kit.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Another black “mourning” dress with elegant ruched sleeves.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Great view of Helen’s period hairstyle.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

A little love triangle — or is it?

 

 

Have you read or watched The Tenant of Wildfell Hall?

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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. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

14 Responses

  1. Rhonda Stannard

    Emily had just one book but Anne had two and Charlotte had four. I loved the costumes in Tenant of Wildfell Hall but I had a hard time watching it because of mycrush on Rupert Graves. It was very hard watching him be evil.

    Reply
  2. Lyn Robb

    Rupert Graves, Toby Stephens, AND James Purfoy in the same film — Pure viewing heaven. Helen’s hairstyle bugged me — I thought it was so ugly. I’m sure it’s period-correct, but ugh.

    Reply
  3. thestoryenthusiast

    Awww, the baby faced Toby Stephens! I had a hard time with Helen’s hairstyles too. Though they may be period accurate, they do not flatter the actress at all.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      That was a rather awful time for female hairstyles; you had to have really good bone structure to get away with all those little curls and what I think of as spaniel ears.

      Reply
  4. Saraquill

    I remember seeing commercials for this on PBS back in the day. It was the first time I’d heard of Anne Bronte.

    Reply
  5. Sarah Faltesek

    I think I originally watched this just after seeing the Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens Jane Eyre, and I remember feeling weirded out because Rochester was romancing Aunt Reed. But it’s been years so I’m excited to give it a re-watch!

    Reply
    • Kersten Bo Bersten

      Oh yeah! I watched it around the same time and that is a bit…weird. But I had known Tara Fitzgerald from “Brassed Off” and “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain” so I was more surprised at her performance in Jane Eyre than this.

      Reply
  6. Elizabeth Mahon

    I remember watching this years ago when it was first shown on Masterpiece Theater. At one point, Tara Fitzgerald was in everything, The Woman in White, Tenant, and several other miniseries.

    Reply
  7. Gillian Stapleton

    I loved this right from the first moment, and read the novel when I was a teenager. I live about 25 miles from Haworth and grew up with all the Bronte novels. You’re right, the costumes are wonderful, and I don’t have any problem with the hairstyles – I think they’re interesting and inventive.

    Reply
  8. Penny H

    It’s hard to think of 1996 being so long ago, but my first viewing experience shows how times have changed. I was visiting my sister and due to fly home the next day. They had let the VCR record it for later viewing, and the timing wasn’t quite right, so the last chapter or two of story were missing from the tape. So they downloaded the book from Project Gutenberg, overnight! and printed out the last couple chapters for me to read on the plane the next morning.

    Thanks for the detailed appreciation of the costumes and hair, not something I would have been more than vaguely aware of in 1996, but which I’m sure added to my enjoyment. Must check out the DVD from the library to watch again.

    Why aren’t they making them like that these days?

    Reply
  9. ljones1966

    Big favorite of mine. I understand that there is an earlier adaptation of this story that aired on television in 1968. It starred Janet Munro, Bryan Marshall (of the 1971 version of “Persuasion”) and Corin Redgrave (1995’s “Persuasion”). Has anyone seen it?

    Reply

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