I hadn’t heard of the film The Liberator until I came across that image of actress María Valverde (The Limehouse Golem, The Load, Exodus: Gods and Kings) — who I’ve recently developed a crush on — wearing a dress recycled from Marie Antoinette (2006) and a crapton of flowers on her hat… and once I saw that pic, I knew I had to check it out! I’m ashamed to say I didn’t actually know anything about Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan military and political leader who led Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama to independence from the Spanish Empire. In the end, I think I enjoyed the film more for Bolívar (played by hottie Édgar Ramírez) and learning a history I didn’t know than for the costumes, but the costumes were nicely done, even if I have a few fabric and period quibbles.
The film starts with Bolívar meeting his wife, Maria Teresa Rodríguez del Toro, in Spain, then bringing her back to Venezuela. Sadly she dies not too long after their marriage, and then Bolívar travels to France and eventually gets politically and militarily involved in the independence movement. Everyone puts on good performances, there aren’t TOO many battle scenes, and all in all, it’s an interesting and enjoyable watch.
The men are in late 18th-century/early 19th-century frock coats, with the giant collars of the era. There’s a nice range of classes shown on screen:
For the ladies, I definitely enjoyed what I saw on screen, with a few quibbles — the main one being that Bolívar goes to Spain in 1799, where he courts Maria for two years, and the two marry in 1802. Bolívar meets Maria AT court, playing tennis with the king, and the court ladies are dressed in 1780s costumes:
What should they be wearing? Here’s a mix of various images of very late 1790s Spanish upper-class women’s wear:
And what about that totally gorgeous, excessively floral hat?
Here’s a few other extras, just to give you an overall look at the scene:
Some more courting happens in what-is-the-same-time-period, and Maria wears an outfit that made me 75% happy:
Because what she’s wearing is called “maja” dress. As I wrote in my review of El Ministerio del Tiempo, “The majo (men) and maja (women) were a very typical and unique look worn by the working/lower classes, particularly in Madrid. For women, there’s a lot of jackets, and details on the sleeves. It was an over-the-top look that was very swagger-y.”
As it became tied to a sense of Spanish nationalism, upper-class women and men sometimes embraced it, particularly for fancy dress:
The short spencer jacket over the longer corseted figure is something I’ve seen in southern French regional dress, so I can imagine it extending to Spain:
What doesn’t work is the fabric, which is SO modern chinoiserie:
The ball fringe snood is a current style of “traditional Spanish dress,” called a “mantilla madronos,” which appears to date to at least the late 19th century:
The ball fringe WAS a frequent design element of maja dress:
But all of the images I’ve looked at of late 18th/early 19th century show women in maja dress wearing bags made of fabric, not pompoms:
I have now spent way too long researching and writing this post, so now I’m going to get a little less in-depth. Bolívar and Maria arrive in South America, and suddenly Maria’s wardrobe has realized it’s the 19th century:
Later she gets confused, wearing this sort of art nouveau number with yet another super-modern print:
Later in the film, Bolívar hooks up with Manuela Sáenz, an Ecuadoran revolutionary who seems pretty badass. She starts off in standard “Regency” wear, with a great shawl:
And later gets to wear a man’s suit, which looks fabulous on her:
Check out The Liberator, you’ll be glad you did!