Top Five Historical Witches

27

It’s the witchy season, and we’re all about adding a pointy black hat to any outfit, especially historical costumes. Except that’s not really a good historical witch look, just a cheesy Halloween prop store thing! No worries, we found a few more historical style witches to celebrate October with. These are my top five, but they aren’t the only ones.

 

Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur (1981)

Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur (1981) Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur (1981)Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur (1981)

OK, this is a fantasy medieval flick, but anything with an actual witch as character is bordering on fantasy already. Morgana is something of an archetypical witch who uses both feminine wiles and magic for revenge and power. Alas, the costumes in this movie are crazytown, but hey, it’s still Dame Helen!

 

Lara Parker as Angélique Bouchard Collins in Dark Shadows (1966-1971)

Lara Parker as Angélique Bouchard Collins in Dark Shadows (1966-1971) Lara Parker as Angélique Bouchard Collins in Dark Shadows (1966-1971) Lara Parker as Angélique Bouchard Collins in Dark Shadows (1966-1971)

One of my early spooky influences was this horror soap opera, and Angélique is a seriously wonderful bad bitch! Her failed romance with Barnabas Collins in the early 19th century is at the heart of the story, having resulted in him becoming a vampire. She eventually travels forward to the present day in search of him, they both time-travel to the 1890s and then the 1840s. The whole thing is ludicrous fun with ’60s bouffants aplenty.

 

Miranda Richardson as Lady Mary Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Miranda Richardson in Sleepy Hollow (1999) Miranda Richardson in Sleepy Hollow (1999)

This Tim Burton-directed frock flick is perfect for Halloween, with gothic costumes and creepy settings. Lady Van Tassel isn’t a typical witch, but it turns out that she’s the one making the Headless Horseman terrorize the town. She’s wonderfully wicked, plus she has a stunning wardrobe by Colleen Atwood.

 

Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole aka Madame Kali from Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

Penny Dreadful Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole from Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole from Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

The mysterious spiritualist Madame Kali shows up in the first season of this show leading a seance. In the second season, it’s revealed that she’s a witch leading a deadly coven. This two-faced role is deliciously perfect for Helen McCrory who plays serious then insane so easily.

 

Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley in Salem (2014-2017)

Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley in Salem (2014-2017) Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley in Salem (2014-2017) Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley in Salem (2014-2017)

This show drove me nuts, and not in a good way! Great concept of having actual witches at the Salem witch trials, but the character development was really off (and apparently this was due to problems in the writers’ room for Season 1, which I couldn’t get past). But I’ll hand it to them for creating powerful witch characters with outrageously beautiful costumes.

 

 

 

 

Who’s your favorite historical witch in movies or TV? Who would you add to this list?

27 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Badasses the lot, but im going to add Diana Bishop of A Discovery of Witches season 2. Also they seem to have resurrected Quentin Crisp for QEI.

    Reply
  2. mmcquown

    Don’t forget that Lucy Lawless was also in Salem. I guess I’ll go for Dame Helen as the archetype of witches/sorceresses, There’s a nagging at the back of my memory about a movie in which the witch wanted :a “skin for dancing in,” but I can’t remember any more than that. The actress was highly respected at the time.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      🤣🤣 yes! What about the witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? ‘It’s a fair cop.’?

      Reply
  3. Natasha Rubin

    I honestly dislike the “real witches at Salem” trope – I think it’s an overdone cliche at this point, and obscures what the trials were really about, and that the people murdered were ordinary, innocent humans. The trials are much more meaningful for what they say about humanity than what they say about magic or witches. (Which I think Arthur Miller captured well in The Crucible, even if he took historical liberties.)

    Reply
    • Nzie

      Yeah, I was going to say something similar. Is it possible that it could be done well? Sure. But I don’t trust most to do it. There are people trying to claim this connection for real to increase their own visibility and prestige–with the (presumably unintended) effect of justifying the terrible abuse of justice that occurred (by making them “guilty” if you were). If you’ve visited Salem and seen the Witch Museum, you’ll know what I mean.

      Reply
    • Saraquill

      The book “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” covers different ground from “The Crucible,” but goes a long way in giving Tituba agency and moments of joy. Her time in Salem is portrayed as a very bizarre, distressing blip in her life.

      Reply
      • Natasha Rubin

        @Sarahquill That sounds like a great rec! Tituba rarely gets focus as a character and is often reduced to some very racist tropes, I’d love to read something that did her more justice.

        Reply
  4. Donna Smith

    Just an FYI, the free streaming service Pluto has added a channel dedicated to “Dark Shadows.” 24/7 nostalgia!

    Reply
  5. Saraquill

    I feel so bad for Helen Mirren. Those “sexy” metal outfits look sweaty, chafy and poky. The head necklaces add insult to injury with their tangle hazard.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      There was nothing medieval about the women’s costumes in Excalibur. On the other hand the male cast spent most of their time in highly polished plate armor!

      Reply
      • SarahV

        Except for the dreamy Nicholas Clay as Lancelot who has not one, but two nude scenes!

        Even though the women’s costuming in Excalibur is crazytown, there are a few stand outs that are beautiful. Gwenivere’s golden “trial dress” with its sequined (what are those big sequins called) wimple, Gwenivere’s riding dress when being escorted to her wedding, and then I am a total sucker for Morganna’s INSANE cross-hatched leather dress up there.

        Reply
  6. Kate

    The Sanderson Sisters (Hocus Pocus) will always be it for me! Of course the costumes are ridiculous, but pure fun. I watch that movie every halloween without fail, and it always makes me laugh.

    Reply
  7. Lily Lotus Rose

    I LOVE all these choices. And let’s just acknowledge that Helen Mirren and Helen McCrory always look great no matter what! I would add these witches: Eva Green as Morgana from the Starz version of Camelot; all the witches in The Mists of Avalon TV mini-series; Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Stardust; Angelina Jolie in Maleficent; and for a classic the witches from the 70s version of Clash of the Titans! (OK, I just realized that my last three choices were totally “fantasy” characters, but as you acknowledged we were on shaky ground already with this totally awesome and fun topic!)

    Reply
    • Lily Lotus Rose

      Adding to my previous answer: ALL the witches in Fantastic Beasts series. Those movies are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, including the gorgeous costumes.

      Reply
      • SarahV

        Carmen Ejogo’s presidential yet Art Deco witches’ robes are to die for as President Serafina Piquery.

        Also, I will never not covet Queenie’s beautful pink velvet (?) coat.

        Lastly, Madame Rosier (I think her name was) had amazing style as Grindelwald’s fabulous, murderous henchwitch.

        Reply
  8. Addie

    My favorite thing about Morgana/Morgan le Fay is that her earlier characterizations besides straight-up-fairy and later sorceress who hates Guinevere for tattling about her sexytimes is that her motivation is very… school yard story morality. Like she has the Green Knight get his head chopped off in “Gawain and the Green Knight” to hopefully scare Guinevere to death at the Christmas table.
    And then in a later version she just reforms for no reason and tells Arthur about Lancelot and Guinevere because Lancelot painted a mural about his affair with Guinevere in her basement when she had him locked up there and she’s very upset about having to break it to Arthur. It’s a lot like when me and my friends played Robin Hood and we’d all just switch from good/evil and back within 20 minutes.

    Reply
  9. Martina

    All great witches, but I can’t see a picture of Barnabas Collins without remembering that it was on after school and I was TERRIFIED of it. I’d scream at my sister to turn off the TV as soon as I heard the theme music. :)

    Reply
  10. Ben

    Speaking of Helen McCrory as a witch, she was also transcedent in the National Theatre version of Medea. If you ever get a chance, it is very worth giving the filmed version a watch!

    Reply
  11. Julia R

    I found Dark Shadows when I was about 8 when it was rerunning on SyFy, and my life has never been the same. Angelique in that gauzy seafoam green dress was my everything!

    Reply

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