Top Five Flicks Set in the 18th Century (That Aren’t Marie Antoinette)

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California has finally gotten some serious rain, and it’s put me in the mood for some comfort-watching. I wanted to list out my top five favorite 18th-century flicks because those are always good for watching while piled under cozy blanket and a couple of cats. We’ve done a post about each of these films, so click on the link in the title to read more and then go watch the film!

 

Blackadder the Third (1985)

The Blackadder franchise is one of the most beloved historical comedies to have come out of the Anglosphere, pretty much ever. With high production values and impeccable costuming, each of the series and the accompanying specials are funny and fun to watch. That said, my favorite of all the ‘Adder eras is Blackadder the Third, set during the 1790s. Again, Rowan Atkinson, a man that no one has ever said “woof!” and made a hip thrusting motion towards, somehow manages to come off looking sexy as fuck as Edmund Blackadder, a man so cunning you could brush your teeth with him.

Ok, that’s a reference to the second series, set during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, but whatever. Go with me.

The costumes in this series were designed by Annie Hardinge, and they’re some of the best 18th-century costumes you’re going to see on film.

 

Edmund is the personal valet to Prince George, and a ruthless schemer whose sole mission in life is to personally enrich himself. It’s not really hard, considering who he’s dealing with…

 

Blackadder the Third (1987) Blackadder the Third (1987)

 

I know she’s supposed to be a caricature, but Mrs. Miggins has an amazing set of costumes throughout the show that are spot on for the 1780s.

 

The Madness of King George (1994)

Adapted from a play by Alan Bennet, this film focuses on a period in George III’s life where a mysterious illness overtook him and induced mania and crippling depression, as well as a host of other mental illness symptoms (the prevailing theory is that he suffered from porphyria, which causes intermittent symptoms similar to what were described him experiencing). Sounds like a depressing topic, right? Wrong. The script manages to be respectful of the issues the man was suffering from, while also depicting the rippling meltdown his mental illness causes within his family and court with surprising humor. As someone who suffers from a handful of psychiatric disorders, I loved the way the film depicts both the real problems that occur when a leader of a country has a mental breakdown, but also the ridiculousness of everyone trying to cope and act like it’s all fine. The costumes were designed by Mark Thompson, and while there’s some theatrical stylings, the overall silhouette nails it.

1994 The Madness of King George 1994 The Madness of King George 1994 The Madness of King George

 

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

This film is a retelling of the very real (and very problematic for Marie Antoinette) affaire du collier scandal that rocked Paris in 1786. The Cliff’s Notes version of this complicated scheme was that the self-titled Vicomtesse de Valmot conspired with her husband, as well as her lover, to scam the Cardinal de Rohan of an insane amount of money by posing as Marie Antoinette seeking Rohan’s assistance in purchasing a prohibitively expensive diamond necklace without her husband, or his advisors, knowing. After hooking Rohan through letters imploring his help, a meeting was arranged in a darkened garden one evening. The Cardinal shows up to find a prostitute, who bore a striking resemblance to the Queen, promising to restore him to favor in the court if he purchases the necklace for her. A fool and his money are swiftly parted, the necklace purchased and the diamonds split up and sold off, and the conspirators scatter to the winds. And the blame (rather unfairly, I might add) fell on Marie Antoinette, who had nothing to do with any of it. It’s a fascinating slice of historical scandal, and this film does a pretty good job of telling it from the scammers’ point of view. I thought Hillary Swank was kind of a weird choice for the role, and she’s a bit clunky in it, but the rest of the cast is fabulous (including Adrian Brody who acts beautifully wearing nothing but a towel).

The costumes are by Milena Canonero and are beautifully tailored and are a gorgeous feast for the eyes.

The Affair of the Necklace (2001) The Affair of the Necklace (2001) 2001 The Affair of the Necklace

 

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Beautiful people being awful to one another! It’s pure eye candy, even though there’s supposed to be a morality lesson buried under all those yards of fabulous damasks. Glenn Close is the very rich and very morally corrupt Marquise de Merteuil, who delights in toying with, well, basically anyone who has the misfortune of falling in with her company. John Malkovich plays her paramour, the Vicomte de Valmont, who is equally shitty and decides it’s a good idea to enter into a bet with her over whether or not he can seduce the very virtuous and very married Madame de Tourvel (played surprisingly well by Michelle Pfeiffer). Complications ensue when Valmont develops a dreaded case of Feelings for Madame de Tourvel, which throws a wrench in Merteuil’s plans.

The costumes were designed by James Acheson. You can hear about some of the issues he ran into with costuming the film on a shoe-string budget on our podcast, and see for yourself that you don’t actually need a ton of money to make gorgeous costumes for a film as long as you know what you’re doing.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

 

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

 

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

 

The Duchess (2008)

I was prepared to hate this film when it first came out, given my general irritation with Keira Knightly, but I ended up really loving it. Knightly plays Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, a woman with an insane amount of wealth and power in late Georgian England. The film is a fairly broad overview of about 10-15 years of Georgiana’s life, and a lot of the material was taken from Amanda Foreman’s biography of the duchess. It does a pretty good job of sprinkling in enough of this remarkable woman’s story in 2 hours, so you get a pretty good idea of how absolutely bonkers her life was.

The costumes were designed by Michael O’Connor, and the tailoring on all the garments is superb.

The Duchess (2008) 2008 The Duchess The Duchess (2008) 2008 The Duchess

Note: I did not put Perfume: A Story of a Murder on this list because Dustin Hoffman MURDERS THE CAT. I can handle people being shitty to other people, but not animals (or children). That said, it is a gorgeous film with really good costumes, so if that sort of stuff doesn’t bother you, by all means, have at.

 

 

What’s on your top five 18th-century films list? Share with us in the comments!

12 Responses

  1. Jose

    I couldn’t agree more I love those movies, but I always laugh at Necklace not exactly for Swank but for seeing Patrick Jane on the 18th Century! Jokes aside I love a good Costume Bitch and those have each one secured to have some iconic ones, by the way ever thought about a WCW on Jeanne De La Motte she has been portrayed serious times usually as a villain, The Affair of The Necklace is a rare exception that tries to give reasons for her attitudes

    Reply
  2. M.E. Lawrence

    Gawd, these are all so lush and alluring. “Liaisons” is my favorite as pure movie-making. Haven’t seen “The Affair of the Necklace,” but that’s on my list, despite the odd casting of Swank.

    Reply
  3. Susanne V.

    i saw Hugh Laurie in his many seasons of Blackadder LONG before “House MD” became a thing. and it took me almost a full season of House to stop waiting for the GIGGLE… or the Wooster blank stare, for that matter..

    Reply
  4. Jessica A

    Tiny correction, Dustin Hoffman didn’t murder the cat in Perfume, Ben Whishaw did. Otherwise, great list!

    Reply
  5. JLou

    I would add any one of the several versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of them are a bit shaky on the women’s clothing (and makeup!), but everyone of them nails the men’s high collars.

    My personal favorite is the 1934 version. Leslie Howard is the definite Percy Blakeney.

    Reply
  6. MoHub

    Not a single piece, but the Monty Python “Dennis Moore” sketches not only nail 18th century, but they do a fantastic job with the period underwear.

    Reply
  7. Julia R

    I would have the exact same list. I can’t get enough of Dangerous Liaisons, and I’ll take any season of Blackadder over most any other comedy.

    Reply
  8. Lily Lotus Rose

    Dangerous Liaisons–now and always!!!!!

    My only quibble with this post is that I wanted a pick of Ralph Fiennes from The Duchess. (Sigh.)

    Reply
  9. Gail

    Prinny! I shouted, to myself. Hugh Laurie was in so much pre-‘House.” Love Blackadder. The other movies are spot on, and pefect for a gray day in the NE.

    Reply
  10. Damnitz

    I’m surprised that all films are about upper class characters.

    My choice would be:
    “Dangerous Liasions” (1988)
    “Das große Abenteuer des Kaspar Schmeck” (1982) – if miniseries are allowed
    “Black Jack” (1979)
    “Mademoiselle de Joncquières” (2018)
    “L’échange des princesses” (2017)
    “Tom Jones” (1964) – if miniseries are not allowed

    I would include films even if they have not the best costumes, if the story is good enough or it’s enjoyable.

    Reply

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