A Touch of Mystery in An Inspector Calls (2015)


An Inspector Calls is a one-episode BBC TV movie based on a 1945 play. It aired recently in the UK, and hopefully will make its way over to our side of the pond! This version (there’s been a 1954 feature film, and various TV adaptations) stars David Thewlis and Miranda Richardson.

The basic set-up is this: in 1912, a rich family is having a dinner to celebrate their daughter’s engagement. Mid-dinner, a mysterious police inspector (Thewlis) shows up and starts interrogating the family about the suicide of a girl. As the story unfolds, you find out that each family member (and the daughter’s fiancé) have a connection to the girl. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, so I’ll just say that A) it is very play-esque in that everything (minus flashbacks) happens in that one home, on that one evening, and B) there are a lot of strong performances. The story is all about trying to get both the characters and the audience to question class distinctions, and is very much in that vein of “impending upper-class doom given that World War I is around the corner.”

The costumes were designed by Amy Roberts (Upstairs Downstairs [2010-12], Wuthering Heights [2009], The Virgin Queen [2005], Cold Comfort Farm [1995], and many more). She was in luck in that since the story takes place over one evening, each character had one featured costume — although there were a few other outfits worn in flashbacks.

In general, I thought they did a great job of keeping the costumes to 1912 exactly with one exception:

2015 An Inspector Calls

The Birling family, the central characters | (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

David Thewlis as the inspector was all dark suit, bowler hat, stiff collar:

2015 An Inspector Calls

Arthur and Sybil Birling are the patriarch and matriarch of the family. They’re ALL ABOUT being as stiff and buttoned-up as humanly possible, which is reflected in their clothing:

2015 An Inspector Calls

He’s got the cardboard shirt front and everything else that makes white tie fabulous. This pewter number on Miranda Richardson is nice, and you can sense the armor of her corset underneath, which informs her character. Love the dog collar and long pearls – SO Edwardian | (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

An Inspector Calls (2015)

The back of Sybil’s dress. I like that the drape continues on the back, and that there’s no sign of closure in the center back, which is as it should be — 1910s dresses generally closed in a really interesting way that combined front and/or side closures. Also, great hair.

I found promo images of this dress, which is SO 1912 — love the layers, soutache, and buttons — but I don’t recognize it from the show. My theory is that it’s what’s worn under the coat seen on screen (what a waste!).

(C) BBC/Drama Republic - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

(C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

An Inspector Calls (2015)

I mean, check this OUT!

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Is it what’s hiding under this fur coat?

2015 An Inspector Calls

Great hat, btw.

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Another great fur-and-hat look, while shopping.

Their engaged daughter Sheila wears dark red, an interesting choice for an unmarried lady, but it’s really beautiful — and captures my favorite thing about 1910s costume: the layering.

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Sheila in a sheer net layered over a fitted bodice; LOVE the two colors in the hip drape. This is spot-on for 1912 | (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Love the tiny beading along the edge of the bodice drape and sleeve hem.

In her flashback, she goes shopping with her mother:

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Love the color of her green dress. Also, GREAT hat trimming.

An Inspector Calls (2015)

And she tries on this yellow dress, which has nice layering and a great sailor collar.

Their son Eric:

An Inspector Calls (2015)

A nice variation on white tie, with the tie and vest in cream. GREAT hair — side parted, waved, and slicked. Yay! (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

And Sheila’s fiancé, Gerald:

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Black tie — would that be done, given that the other guys are in white tie? Note how the red in his waistcoat ties in with Sheila’s red dress.

Eva is the girl who (maybe) commits suicide. She’s poor and works in a factory, so this is her main look:

2015 An Inspector Calls
2015 An Inspector Calls

With some of her fellow factory workers. Hey, look at all those hairpins! Interesting that the factory workers are wearing slightly dated (compare to Sheila) hairstyles — not sure if I buy that, as working women were known for trying to be as up-to-date, fashion-wise, as possible | (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

Eva wears drab looks:

2015 An Inspector Calls

+1 for historical accuracy, -1 for drab, +1 for suiting character/story = +1! (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

But some of her other looks are an improvement:

An Inspector Calls (2015)

The green scarf elevates this outfit a bit.

An Inspector Calls (2015)

But the neckline detail totally looked like a spider to me. Weird.

An Inspector Calls (2015)

Nice beading on this otherwise-plain dress.

At one point in the flashbacks, Eva gets to dress up. I thought this was a really interesting (in a good way) color choice to put on a blonde:

An Inspector Calls (2015)

The color layering in this dress was gorgeous… (C) BBC/Drama Republic – Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

2015 An Inspector Calls

…but the skirt fullness, and hem length, seem VERY 1916-18!

Overall, I’d give the whole thing a solid A — the story is very interesting, the acting is great, and the costumes are 99% perfect. We’ll let you know when this airs Stateside!


Have you seen An Inspector Calls yet?


About the author



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.

6 Responses

  1. Emily Barry

    On the whole, very VERY nice! The working class girls’ hair doesn’t seem off base to me, from photographs I’ve seen. 1912 is still fairly early in the Teens, and there were still some pompadours being worn.
    I do wish the mother’s bosom wasn’t pushed up under her chin, though!

  2. Susan Pola

    I love Miranda’s silverish dress. I will look forward to seeing it.And yes the victim’s dress is very 1916-1918 in hem length.

  3. Heidi L.

    The shoes in the last pic totally look like American Duchess’ Gibson.Hope her sake that they are.

  4. Jai

    This is available on Kanopy streaming service – my public library now offers it. It was beautifully shot and the costumes were impressive. Good film.

  5. Kaite Fink

    Watching it right now, and enjoying it greatly. I highly recommend this movie.