Flesh+Blood (1985)


I saw this movie at some point in my adolescence, and consequently only had these bizarre snippets of memories of it. So, re-watching Flesh + Blood (1985) as an adult, I can really only say that the bizarre snippets of memories only make slightly less sense than the actual film, and surprisingly, the costumes are the least awful thing about it. The plot was apparently hacked together by committee, winding up a weird love triangle between Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rutger Hauer, and Tom Burlinson (who you might remember for not being as famous as either of those two), when originally director Paul Verhoeven intended it to be some artistic statement about the vagaries of the loyalty and friendship between Hauer’s character and another guy who ends up being in the film for all of 10 total minutes.

There’s just so much happening with the DVD cover art, I had to include it here.

Also, hoo boy does this film have a lot of rape in it. And a lot of other types of violence and disgusting human behavior, not to mention animal cruelty, and, well, a lot of mud and blood and vomit. It’s like the pinnacle of the “middle ages were an abject shitshow of humanity” cinematic trope. All I’m saying is that if you haven’t seen this film before, and you’re the least bit squeamish, you might give it a pass. Apparently some versions have the rape scenes edited out, but then that makes me wonder how long the resulting film is … 45 minutes? Because, seriously, we’re talking a lot of rape.

And a romantic scene beneath a pair of decaying hanged corpses. The wtf-ery is endless in this film.

So, on to the costumes. They were designed by Yvonne Blake, who is notable for having designed the costumes for The Three and Four Musketeer films, Goya’s Ghosts (2006), and Carmen (2003), so while these costumes aren’t perfect, they’re still pretty solid. The film is set in 1501, but in a nondescript European country (maybe Italy? the protagonist is the heir to the Arnolfini family), but the women’s costumes all look very Germanic and from a decade or two later. The men’s costumes could go either way between early 16th-century German and early 16th-century Italy. Aside from lacking clarity on where the action is taking place, at least Blake apparently looked at more than one historical source before designing the costumes, so there’s some internal consistency.


JJL’s red dress appears to be based on one of the many versions Holbein painted of this red dress, but with different sleeves.


The addition of the gold lame in the slashes isn’t great, but it is suitably flashy, so…


The hair is wacky, the clothes are half-assedly worn, but none of the costumes are egregiously out of period.


The most memorable dress in the film worn by Jennifer Jason Leigh looks like it took a fair few elements from Holbein’s portrait of Anna Meyer, c. 1526. 1980s perm not included.


Rutger Hauer would look good in anything (or nothing), but his white outfit is still pretty decent. Props to Yvonne Blake for not shying away from the detail on his codpiece or even including a codpiece in the first place. And before anyone gets on me about the lack of giant codpieces, no, those were a later 16th-century phenomenon. Things were still slightly restrained in the crotch department in the early 1500s.


None of this is bad. Even the armor is, as my boyfriend put it, “Eh, okay.” Also, points to the costume department for putting Arnolfini in shoes, not boots.


I liked JJL’s black dress, especially how she has it tucked up between her legs like a pair of breeches so she can run around and climb and stuff.


There even looks to be some vaguely Swabian-inspired elements in a handful of the women’s costumes. It’s passable at a distance.

All in all, I think I can easily go another 30 years without watching Flesh+Blood, but at least the costumes made it somewhat worth my time.



What did you think of the costumes in Flesh+Blood (1985)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

11 Responses

  1. Sarita

    This movie also traumatized me in early adolescence. I’m not even sure how I saw it, given all the rape, for sure it wasn’t something we rented at blockbuster. Interesting to note that the costumes are not entirely BS.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Yes! I just had these snippets of freakish memories of the film from when I watched it the first time around (I had to have been around 12 or 13 at the time, so it must have been at least 4 or 5 years after it came out. It was probably being shown on some cable channel and I caught it randomly while flipping channels). Mainly, the scene where they’re flinging the plague dog’s body parts into the castle, and that totally traumatized me. Now, watching as an adult, it’s still horrifying but in a slightly campier way, if that makes sense. Like, I was watching the entire film and thinking, “LOL seriously? A plague that works within minutes? Making out under rotting corpses? LOLWHUT?”

      There’s a lot of excellent cinema from the 1980s, and this one had all of those pretensions but just failed on pretty much every count. Except for the costumes. Such a weird film.

      • Diana forbes

        When I saw this review, I immediately looked it up to see if it was based off a bodice -ripper novel, because that would have made so much sense.

        Sadly, it was not, but I feel like it was meant to be a bodice -ripper in film thing.

  2. Michael McQuown

    Never seen it, never even heard of it. The pix look interesting, and I agree with the BF, at least from the one example, that the armour seems OK. Speaking of armour and codpieces, the brayette, as it’s called, on one of Henry VIII’s jousting harnesses looks like a #2 can. It pays to advertise, OR he needed a lot of padding for protection.

    • Kathleen J Norvell

      I think you would like it. I certainly did. Interesting “war machines” and all the dirt, blood, and horrors of Renaissance warfare.

  3. Wildfyrewarning

    I’m 100% going to watch this because I adore Rutger Hauer (and agree that any state of dress or undress he is in is perfectly fine by me), but god I wish he wasn’t in so many terrible movies set vaguely “somewhere in Europe.” Does he have an American accent for no good reason in this one like he did in “Ladyhawke”?

  4. SarahV

    This movie is indeed very rape-y and very gross (thinking about what goes in to the well/cistern thingy!) but I will say one thing in it’s defense…

    When you say “The hair is wacky, the clothes are half-assedly worn, but none of the costumes are egregiously out of period.” thay’s probably intentional since that group of characters is a group of imposters – they’re the mercenaries and the prostitutes who love them who took possession of the castle and the wardrobes of the aristocrats who lived there.

    (The one prostitute with the reddish hair and the crazy CRAY-ZEE eyes still haunts me to this day. )

  5. M.E. Lawrence

    I’ve avoided Verhoeven (and anything written by Joe Eszterhas) since “Basic Instinct,” although “Showgirls” sounded unintentionally hilarious. Men who are entranced by picturesque scenes of rape and pillage don’t charm me.

  6. Kathryn MacLennan

    I saw the beginning of this on TV when I was about 10. Now, knowing what it is called and what happens in the rest of it, I have no desire to finish it and am glad I tapped out when I did.

  7. Damnitz

    The beginning of the film is somehow interesting. But later on it is looking as they were running out of budget with a tiny force of mercenaries defending a castle which is just too big to be properly defended by a handful of soldiers.

    The men’s costumes are looking more 1520s to me and not like 1500s. But I don’t think that Verhoeven ever had problems about it. I loved the locations and Rudger Hauer as a leader of mercenaries in 16th century Italy is a nice role for him.

  8. Lily Lotus Rose

    Loving Rutger Hauer in the white outfit and comments about him clothed or desbhabille.