People have emailed and commented at us asking for reviews of the costumes for the upcoming Starz series Becoming Elizabeth (2021?). These requests have been based on behind-the-scenes photos floating around the internet, but nothing from official sources. Now, not only am I almost entirely uninterested in this series (I’ll get to why in a minute), but we just can’t use those unofficial photos anymore or we risk getting legal nasty-grams from the paparazzi who took them. It’s can be a gigantic hassle that I don’t want to mess with.
However, this week, Starz dropped an official teaser trailer and promo photo for the series, so I guess that excuse doesn’t work anymore.
Color me underwhelmed. But, BECAUSE I LOVE YOU FUCKERS, here I go, doing a deep-dive into this shallowest of waters. First up, the promo pic that was released with the video:
I believe that’s Elizabeth (played by Alicia von Rittberg), but no idea which dude it is, maybe Thomas Seymour (Tom Cullen) since he’s older? Anyway, THE HAIR. The story probably has this as an “intimate, private” scene between the two, thus her hair being down is symbolic of their closeness, blah blah blah, I don’t care. Her hair would be taped up in braids anyway if it was uncovered.
OK, on to the video itself, here are my high / low points, such as they are.
Since this is about Elizabeth Tudor’s youth before she’s queen of England, the period would be the 1540s to 1550s, prime time for French hoods. And they generally look good! Especially when compared to 98% of French hoods in movies and TV — because here, they’re using Tudor Tailor patterns, and Ninya Mikhaila, co-founder of The Tudor Tailor, was hired to consult on the series for one day and worked with costume designer Bart Cariss.
All of us at Frock Flicks love Ninya and her Tudor Tailor work as everything they do is incredibly well researched and historically accurate. I’ve made French hoods according to their book pattern, and they come out beautifully and really do resemble portraits. Now there is research suggesting that some parts of the hood were separately assembled and pinned together, not sewn together as in The Tudor Tailor, but for a compromise between accuracy and ease of use, you can’t beat Ninya and company’s designs. So that’s one thing Becoming Elizabeth gets right.
The second arrow is pointing out that she’s wearing a black velvet partlet over a black velvet gown, and the partlet is lined in white (which you can also see at the neck). The preponderance of this style of partlet is typical of this period and is a nice touch. Because it’s not a kicky shrug!
I want to see more of this burgundy gown, it looks lovely, and I like the use of a brocade for the big turnback sleeves. But I’m not impressed by the men’s hairstyles and lack of hats.
Braided-up hair, you’re doing it right!
YAY, French hoods that are NOT headbands! This is the “hood” that goes in the name, folks.
OK, here’s our first hint of WTfrock. Lady-on-the-left has a kinda crappy hood, looks a bit like a generic visor. Lady-on-the-right has a pretty dress, but those poufy sleeves are 50 years ahead of fashion (unless you removed the farthingale, shortened and straightened the bodice a bit, ditched the French hood, and then maybe you’d have an Italian 1530s gown? IDK, but that seems like a stretch).
The other kind of partlet, worn underneath a gown’s bodice. Both were common.
One guy is wearing shoes, not boots, good for him! But he’s in livery, so not a high-ranking sort. The rest of the dudes could all be rocking the tall books inappropriately, who knows. A few fellas are wearing hats, proving it is possible.
A 16th-century shirt. Hard to fuck that up.
WHOA. Catherine Parr with beachy waves? WHY?!? Maybe this is just because it’s a behind-the-scenes video and she was caught on her way to the hair & makeup trailer. Maybe? Yeah, I don’t think so. Bummer, because that gown looks gorgeous with an appropriate-to-the-period gold brocade, fur sleeve turnbacks, and a burgundy velvet partlet.
Edward VI has a puppy. Kendra will be pleased.
I’m interested at what looks like piercing or pinking on the doublet worn by dude-on-the-left. Nice historical surface treatment. Another decent French hood for young-lady-on-the-right, plus another lovely burgundy velvet gown with matching partlet. At least the color schemes for this production’s costumes are right out of historical portraits, and the series doesn’t seem to be raiding the upholstery remnant bin at Jo-Ann’s like so many other efforts by Starz.
This Edward VI (Oliver Zetterström) wears a good reproduction of Edward’s outfit in the portrait by William Scrots circa 1550.
Now for why I’m so totally MEH about this production overall, even though the costumes look remarkably not terrible: have we not seen enough of Queen Elizabeth I of England onscreen already? From her birth to her death, it’s been well covered, trust me, I’ve seen a ton of the bazillion movies and TV shows about her and reviewed them for this blog. Sure, she’s one of my favorite historical figures! I get it, she’s popular, she’s recognizable, Starz is probably thinking it’s easy money to make the bazillion-and-first production about QEI. But c’mon! It’s 2021, let’s try something different in the 16th century!!!
And can we not just “update” the same old stories by shoe-horning in modern storylines? History is full of fascinating, complicated, juicy, dramatic untold stories centering women, people of color, and queer people in every century, and FFS, the 16th century even had other somewhat interesting white people than Queen Elizabeth, Henry VIII, or Mary Queen of Scots. Our whole Forgotten History category is devoted to lesser-known biographies that would make great movies and TV shows, so seriously, Hollywood, BBC, et. al., check it out, because as our tag says, clearly you are out of ideas and Becoming Elizabeth is yet more proof.
Oh hey, there’s also a massive field of literature — period and current — set in the 16th century, and I hear historical fiction onscreen can be popular too, like, oh Outlander or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Or just write something totally new set in that period, a la Downton Abbey, and with 16th-century gentry / peasant contrast instead of upstairs / downstairs. There’s plenty of possible ideas that don’t rehash the same old stories, but y’know, making TV and movies is a business, and business thinks remakes and reboots are safe bets. UGH.
Now, will I end up watching this latest show? Yeah, probably. And I’ll write something up for you, dear readers, but it’s not looking like a Philippa Fucking Gregory shitshow (this one is created and written by playwright Anya Reiss). Probably not much good for snark, alas. Becoming Elizabeth looks boring for anyone who already knows anything about the period.
What do you think of this preview video? Will you watch Becoming Elizabeth on Starz?