May 14 was Cate Blanchett’s birthday, so what better time to examine the many fabulous roles she has played in historical costume movies? Since her very earliest turn in Paradise Road, she has continually reminded us that the girl has TALENT. Seriously. She is possibly the greatest actress of her generation. Thankfully, she’s done a lot of period pieces and won an Academy Award in the process!
Phase 1: Straight Outta Australia
She Plays: Bianca, a European woman (who happens to be albino) who is living in a refugee camp in post-World War II Australia. That’s all I can really find out about this. Most reviewers seem to think it’s not worth watching.
The Costumes: I got nothing! It was incredibly hard even to find these photos.
Paradise Road (1997)
She Plays: Susan Macarthy, an Australian nurse who (along with many others) is held in a Japanese internment camp in Sumatra during World War II. There are many excellent performances, but Cate is the stand out. I highly recommend this for a moving story and MANY impressive female performances.
The Costumes: It’s an internment camp: Dirt. Rags.
Special Bonus: Strong performances by Jennifer Ehle, Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, and Julianna Margulies. Seriously. Watch this.
Oscar and Lucinda (1997)
She Plays: Lucinda Leplastrier in a really weird story set in late 19th-century Australia. She’s a an heiress obsessed with glass, Ralph Fiennes is the religious gambler with whom she falls in love. It gets weirder.
The Costumes: Pretty with some interesting touches of dress reform-type outfits on Blanchett.
Special Bonus: Did I mention Ralph Fiennes?
Phase 2: Serious Leading Lady
She Plays: Queen Elizabeth I of England in this attempt at a biopic that gets most of the details wrong, but does still manage to capture the character of Elizabeth. Cate’s performance was STUNNINGLY good.
The Costumes: Weird. Vaguely 16th century, although at least not slutty like The Tudors. Still, the costume designer went way off-book, but without any real logic or theme.
Special Bonus: Christopher Eccleston is a lurking, evil, hot Duke of Norfolk.
An Ideal Husband (1995)
She Plays: Lady Gertrude Chiltern, the wife of Jeremy Northam’s politician character. She’s got very high expectations of her husband, which creates problems when an old friend who Knows Things comes back to town.
The Costumes: Stunning 1890s gowns — this is probably my favorite film set in this era!
Special Bonus: Jeremy Northam and Rupert Everett are hot hot, Minnie Driver is cute, Julianne Moore is fabulously evil, and the Oscar Wilde-derived script sparkles.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1995)
She Plays: Meredith Logue, an American heiress who gets entangled into Matt Damon’s issues in 1950s Europe.
The Costumes: Fabulous 1950s swank!
Special Bonus: Jude Law is hot hot hot, and Gwyneth Paltrow actually doesn’t annoy me.
The Man Who Cried (2000)
She Plays: Lola, a sophisticated Russian singer who befriends Christina Ricci’s character (a Jewish refugee) in 1930s Paris. It’s a weird movie, but not bad per se.
The Costumes: Cate’s hair rocks.
Special Bonus: Johnny Depp as a mysterious Gypsy performer.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy & The Hobbit (2001-2014)
She Plays: Galadriel, an elven queen, in the ultimate fantasy trilogy.
The Costumes: Very pretty faux-medieval elf gowns!
Charlotte Gray (2001)
She Plays: Charlotte Gray, a Scottish woman who is sent to France as an undercover resistance fighter during World War II. The source book is great, this adaptation manages to cheese things up.
The Costumes: Really great 1940s wear, even if Cate/Charlotte is awfully well done-up for wartime Europe.
The Missing (2003)
She Plays: Magdalena Gilkeson, who enlists her estranged father in rescuing her daughter, who has been kidnapped by Native Americans in late 19th-century New Mexico.
The Costumes: I haven’t seen this one, because how much dusty calico can one look at?
The Aviator (2004)
She Plays: Katharine Hepburn in this Howard Hughes biopic. She justifiably won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance — she just NAILS Katharine Hepburn.
The Costumes: Glamour, glamour, glamour!
Special Bonus: Kate Beckinsale as a gorgeous Ava Gardner and oodles of Old Hollywood glamour.
The Good German (2006)
She Plays: Lena Brandt, a Jewish woman who managed to survive World War II Berlin by doing whatever she had to. George Clooney shows up and various mysteries unfold in this black and white film noir.
The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen, sadly! What I’ve seen in photos looks good.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
She Plays: Queen Elizabeth I of England in the sequel to Elizabeth (1998). It’s more of the same, this time focusing on Elizabeth’s relationship with a sadly scruffy Sir Walter Raleigh and the whole Spanish Armada thang. As before, Cate’s stunning performance outweighs all the history that the film gets wrong.
The Costumes: A more stylized, weirder version of the first film’s randomness.
Special Bonus: It SHOULD be Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, but see again re: overly scruffy.
Phase 3: Mixing It Up
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
She Plays: Irina Spalko, eeeevil Russian KGB agent and Indiana’s nemesis in this Cold War adventure.
The Costumes: Lots of grey stretch fabrics, but Cate’s severe bob haircut rocks!
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
She Plays: Daisy, a ballerina who falls in love with a man who lives his life backwards, age-wise.
The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen! The premise just seems so twee.
Robin Hood (2010)
She Plays: Marion Loxley, proto-feminist medieval lady in this attempt at making a Serious Film about Robin Hood.
The Costumes: Very earthy and Serious. Few hairpins were used in the making of this movie.
The Monuments Men (2014)
She Plays: Claire Simone, an art curator in occupied France who helps the American army rescue artworks from the Nazis.
The Costumes: Another one I haven’t seen!
She Plays: Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s eeee-vil stepmother in this recent live-action retelling of the classic fairytale.
The Costumes: Faaaaabulous 1940s/1890s mashups, with Cate/Lady Tremaine getting ALL the best wardrobe. Evil, evil glam.
Special Bonus: SHE’S A VILLAIN WHO HAS A CAT. ON A LEASH.
What’s the Next Cate Blanchett Historical Costume Movie?
Cate has a couple of films announced or in-production, only one of which has a historical setting:
She Plays: Carol Aird. Here’s the vague plot summary: “In 1950s New York, a young woman in her 20s working as a department-store clerk falls for an older, married woman.” Cate must be the older, married woman?
What’s your favorite Cate Blanchett historical costume movie role? Do you dare dispute that she is one of the greatest actresses currently working?