Thieves of the Wood (2018) Is Shockingly Entertaining: Part 1

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Last Snark Week, Trystan did a round-up of variously potentially bad subtitled frock flicks, and suggested I watch Thieves of the Wood (2018), a 10-episode Belgian TV series set in 1747. I had forgotten about it until another friend mentioned it, and since I was running low on interesting things to watch, I decided to fire it up on Netflix — hesitantly. Well, color me shocked to discover I was entertained and happily sailed through all 10 episodes! In typical Kendra overachiever fashion, I collected a million images and have a bunch of things I want to talk about, so to give myself a break I’m going to split this into two posts. Today I’ll introduce things and talk about the men’s costumes, as well as the mostly lower-class women; on Thursday we’ll be back to discuss the middling/upper class women.

Why is the show good? I’m not entirely sure if I can put my finger on it! I think I liked that it was gritty but still had some shine, the story felt fresh, the characters were interestingly complex, and Flemish is entertaining to listen to. (Also, side note, nearly everyone in this production looks like a member of my family, which is weird, as an ethnically mixed American mutt who nonetheless has strong German/Dutch/Danish heritage).

The story is based VERY LOOSELY on real-life Flemish outlaw Jan de Lichte, who during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) led a criminal band. In the TV show, he’s recently returned from the war under suspicious circumstances to a town with a very corrupt leadership that is invested in arresting people and making them outlaws. The outlaws end up creating a camp in the woods, and you guessed it, getting organized.

Although Jan is pretty one-note, a lot of the supporting characters were believably complex. I particularly liked bailiff Baru, newly arrived and very principled, but he has his weaknesses, and Anne-Marie, orphan runaway who falls in with the outlaws.

Two side notes before I get into the costumes:

The locations were really great. Not only did they clearly have access to real historical buildings, but the production designers built some really interesting structures for the outlaws to live and hang out in. If you’re in the mood for some good spooky atmosphere as Halloween approaches, look no further:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

I think this is supposed to be the mayor’s house; it’s a museum in real life.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

One of the outlaw houses.

There is yet another Shitty Historical Portrait:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK AM I LOOKING AT THIS IS GIVING ME LEAVE-IT-TO-BEAVER NIGHTMARES

Now, on to the important stuff!

 

Costumes in Thieves of the Wood

The costumes were designed by Raïssa Hans, who has only designed a few productions that I haven’t heard of, but who has worked as set costumer, costume supervisor, and assistant costume designer on The White QueenIndian Summers (season 1), Close to the EnemyLes Misérables, and World on Fire — and on the forthcoming season 2 of The Spanish Princess. Sadly, I can’t find any press with her about this production, even in languages I would have to Google translate, so I’m just going to have to talk about what we see on film.

The Boys: Outlaws/Thieves

Okay, so I never have AS MUCH to say about the boys, but see again re: ten thousand images.

Our main guy is Jan (Matteo Simoni, left); his co-captain is Tincke (Stef Aerts, right). Most of the outlaws spend their time in multi-layered, dirty, worn clothing that reasonably suits the period — even when Tincke is up on his luck for a while, running a higher-priced brothel, which confused me (do you really want your brothel-manager to be filthy?).

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Mid-18th century-ish shirts, waistcoats, and coats. Lots of dirt.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Tincke does get this fur collar on his overcoat, which seemed awfully Game of Thrones-y.

The Boys: Town

The main character is Baru, the bailiff who’s newly arrived and determined to whip things into shape. He spends most of his time in military uniform:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Good enough for me?

Wigs play a pivotal role in this show in a way I really liked. Baru gets one at one point, and while I liked how artificially “wiggy” it was, I wasn’t a huge fan of the curled bangs:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

That color variation doesn’t show up on screen; I always like to lighten my screencaps so we can actually see what the hell is going on (this is a particularly dark and murky production).

There’s a bunch of other power players in town, including the mayor (who has a HIDEOUS attempt at a full-bottomed wig), a businessman and his son who both get REDONKULOUS wigs, and a priest:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

I like that Nicolaï (far right), a businessman’s son, has the longer coats and waistcoats of the mid-century. He and his dad (in burgundy) have hilarious wigs, which actually work for the characters because it’s meant to show how artificial they are. The mayor (far left), on the other hand, looks like he’s auditioning for The Lion King.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Let’s look a bit more at Nicolaï and pops:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Ok, so that’s very obviously machine embroidery on the coat, and applique on the waistcoat, but it works theatrically.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Yes, pops’ wig is supposed to look artificial and weird. He’s super status/money-focused and inauthentic.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Son Nicolaï — a key character is forced-ish to marry him. This is his wedding suit. Shades of Mr. Collins, eh?

2018 Thieves of the Wood

I particularly liked that they gave Nicolaï sleeved waistcoats, as you see these a lot in museum collections and they make sense for cold weather/unheated rooms.

Waistcoat, 1747, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here’s one of those sleeved waistcoats; the upper sleeve and back are made in plain fabric, because they will be covered by the coat | Waistcoat, 1747, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Again, I need to give props to the wig stylists, who managed to make a number of different styles that all did their job: made the wearers look like pompous idiots. Dian Vandecruys is credited as “makeup artist / wigs,” while Leendert Van Nimwegen was key hairstylist, Marike Willard was a hair stylist, and Natascha Matheuwezen was assistant hairstylist.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

 

The Women: Outlaws

Most of the lower-class female characters were prostitutes (there were definitely women living in the outlaw camp, but they’re all background). But before we get to them, I want to just point out the great job they did on “De Schoen” (Shoe, don’t ask me!) and the silent young girl who’s name I never caught — except for the hair.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Shoe mostly dresses like a boy, although then why she’d wear her hair down is beyond me.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Props for the layers, distressing, cap, and accessorizing!

The Women: Prostitutes

I really liked how they costumed the prostitutes. They’re mostly working at a rural brothel out in the woods, and nobody is inappropriately shiny.

One of the key characters is Anne-Marie. She’s a runaway who gets taken in and trained up by the prostitutes. We’ll see a lot more of her on Thursday when I talk about town women, because she definitely moves up the ladder.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

The prostitutes’ look is generally shift, stays, and petticoat, with big messy hair and a lot of eye makeup.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

I liked the range of individual outfits. Note the hanging pocket on the far left, and the great cut of the stays on the center-right-ish woman.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

Those really nicely shaped stays are worn by a woman of African descent. I liked that they had some diverse casting, and the fact that they address this in the storyline. People of color existed in Europe!

2018 Thieves of the Wood

There was a lot of great distressing and weathering on the costumes. I like how flattering the shawl with sash is on the curvy woman on the right. All of these look like real, lived-in clothes.

2018 Thieves of the Wood

This is a behind-the-scenes shot of an extra. The show is very dark and murky, nothing is this clear on screen, so don’t freak out about the makeup.

In one scene, some of the prostitutes working at a town brothel practice a striptease dance. Once again, I liked the stays and petticoat combos (and I will just hope that they have sleeveless chemises on underneath to avoid corset chafing), and in particular I liked that as one of them disrobes, another picks up her bumroll that she’s been wearing underneath:

2018 Thieves of the Wood

This was the best I could do, screencap-wise — and even these I had to lighten digitally!

 

Come back Thursday, and we’ll get to the shiny, upper-class women from Thieves of the Wood!

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About the author

Kendra

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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.

5 Responses

  1. Shashwat

    The amount of layering in this show surprises me,which really makes the costumes look authentic and reasonable if not entirely accurate in construction.The crossover shawls and sashes really do liven up the look.
    The brothel manager(is pimp too harsh a word?)should probably be dressed better.After all it would be him gobbling the money of the women.Side note-Hollywood and European productions have the propensity to dial up the grittiness of the prostitutes(who did dress up on public occasions to maintain that facade of decadence),while Southeast Asian productions put courtesans and their likes in essentially too-good-to-be-true modern bridal couture.All.The.Time.Everyone forgets that people dressed differently for different occasions.Both sepia washout and rose tint are inappropriate while looking at history.

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Looks interesting. Too bad it’s on Netflix bc of Cuties I am not streaming the network.

    Reply
  3. mmcquown

    “Blackamoors,” as they were often called, has been in England, at least, since Great Elizabeth;s time. Then , there were about 3000 in the country, and there had been an outcry to have them removed. If you can find, iot, there’s a very interesting article on the Net. Some may have come from Moorish Spain, some earlier from the Crusades (If we’re to believe either Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” or “Robin of Sherwood.” Some doubtless came from slavery. In a good part of this period, there was also quite a large trade in white slaves, and Venice was one of the centres of it. So Shakespeare came by his inspiration honestly. Search on “blackamoors’ and “slavery” for more background. And I will certainly give the series a look.

    Reply
    • Aleko

      ‘If we’re to believe either Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” or “Robin of Sherwood.”’

      Surely you jest!

      “Robin of Sherwood” was a post-hippie-era, part-fantasy serial for children and teenagers, and the makers threw everything into the mix they could think of what would be colourful, such as ‘pagan Welsh sorcerer’ (never mind that Wales had been solidly Christian for centuries before England), magic swords, nature spirits, what-have-you. They introduced a Saracen character not so much for inclusivity (not yet really a thing in 1980s Britain) but for a bit of exoticism. This was a complete innovation: there is no basis in any of the earlier Robin Hood stories for a non-English Merry Man.

      “Prince of Thieves” is notorious for the some of the most egregious howlers about English history and geography in film history. Most famously, the one where Robin and Azeem arrive at Dover at dawn and Robin says brightly that they can walk to his father’s home at Loxley. Which would be a stroll of over 230 miles – except that we see them at Hadrian’s Wall on the way, which diversion brings the day’s stroll to over 500 miles. And to show how scientifically advanced ‘Muslim’ Azeem is, they provided him with a telescope – a product of the late European Renaissance at the very end of the 16th century. The Sheriff of Nottingham imports woad-wearing, savage ‘Scottish Celts’ who would have looked primitive a millennium earlier.

      Believing that either production has anything to tell us about 12th-century Britain is equivalent to taking Tennyson’s Arthurian poems as a guide to the Migration Period.

      Just for the record: while of course it’s not impossible that some English crusaders returned home with a Middle Eastern person or two in their entourage, Middle Eastern people are of course not black, but light- to mid-brown. Also, they would have been Christians – either born Christians (everyone forgets that the majority of the native population of the Holy Land was still Eastern Christian in the 12th century, and even now many of them are) or converted. Nobody would have been daft enough to bring a Muslim back to live in England, and if anyone did, the man wouldn’t have been tolerated for an instant if he had attempted to practise his religion.

      Reply
  4. Damnitz

    The first Episode was crazy, but I had to stop after 4 or 5 more episodes as I thought that my head would explode after so much nonsense. More to find about the “So what?”s in storyline and the problems with the history of Flanders (and all over europe) on our Blog: https://wackershofenannodomini.blogspot.com/2020/02/de-bande-van-jan-de-lichte-thieves-of.html

    I think that you can enjoy the series if:
    you like a crossover from historical Larp to “Fantasy-like adventures”
    don’t compare anything with real history
    you like dirty brutal figures.

    Reply

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