Many of you suggest historical costume movies and TV shows for us to review, which is great! But with our limited time (doing this after our paying jobs), we can’t get to everything, so we have to prioritize. That lead us to realize, hey, why don’t we consider requests from readers who’ve donated to help support the site? It’s a little way we can say thanks for your support, plus if you suggest a movie or show that’s not available on streaming right now, your donation is literally helping us rent or buy the frock flick.
So we’ve emailed everyone who has donated in the past (check your spam filters!) with a form to suggest a movie, and going forward, all PayPal donations link to a thank you page that features a suggestion poll. Also, any Patreon supporters can comment on a subscriber-only blog post to nominate a historical costume movie or TV show for us to review.
With that lengthy preface, here’s our first reader request review: Frenchman’s Creek from 1998. We only had a mini-review of this TV movie on the site, plus a full review of the 1944 version of this Daphne Du Maurier novel. The more recent take is less flashy than the earlier one, and reviewers familiar with the book say it strays wildly. I haven’t read Du Maurier so I don’t know — I’m just judging it on the filmed story and the costumes.
Beginning in London 1688, according to the title card, we see the quite fashionable Lady Dona St. Columb (Tara Fitzgerald) pushing away the advances of smarmy Lord Rockingham (Tim Dutton) as the court of King James II falls to pieces. This is an allusion to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that replaced the Catholic and pro-French ruler James with the Protestant and pro-German William and Mary, and the political angle comes up a few times throughout the film. Lady St. Columb is a Catholic and, yup, she’s going to meet a Frenchman. But first, let’s look at one of the few fancy dresses she wears.
Lady St. Columb has five minutes, tops, at court, where she tells off both Rockingham and her husband, for different reasons, and then she hightails it out to the ancestral home in Cornwall, dragging her two kids. Rando guy stops the carriage on the way and helpfully informs
the plot Dona that pirates have been doing nasty things around these parts recently.
In Cornwall, Dona finds the family estate a bit rundown, but whatevs, she orders the one servant, George, around and gets on with her country livin’. Also, it’s worth mentioning that soon after she’s settled in Cornwall, Dona seems to lose all her hairpins and hair conditioner because her hair is free-flowing and kinda frizzy from her on. Yet in her bedroom hangs a big portrait of herself in fashionable hairstyle and clothing of the era. Luckily, it’s not that shitty of a historical portrait — it bears a more than passing resemblance to the Peter Lely school.
First thing Dona wants to do is go for a ride around the countryside, so she puts on … well, I don’t know what it is. Kind of a long, loose coat and buttoned-up waistcoat, both in a beige/buff color, over a full pale/white skirt, with maybe a white scarf at her neck and a dark leather belt pouch. It’s all vague, pale, and flowing at this point.
OK, I guess I’ll recover from the weirdness of her riding outfit, but I really can’t deal with what she wears on her next outing. When she wanders out and discovers the eponymous Frenchman aka the pirate, Jean Aubrey, Dona insists on wearing one of the most ridiculous romance-novel cliche outfits I’ve seen in a while.
When she tries to find Aubrey again, Dona decides to go a smidge less slutty and sticks the stomacher in her bodice. But alas, the Frenchman is nowhere to be found. I guess it really was her milkshake that brought the pirate boys to her yard?
The local gentry informs Dona that they’re out to capture that wily Frenchman. But they don’t know how her house has been used as as a pirate hiding space for ages, and Dona doesn’t intend to stop the practice. Meanwhile, she pays a visit to Lord Godolphin, I guess to get more deets on how the locals are hunting Aubrey and his crew. This is the second rare moment when Dona dresses up, although it’s very much ‘blink and you miss it’ (hence the lame screencaps, sorry). Her dress is blue-green with gold, and it looks like a lot of sari fabrics were used.
Also, the other women (Lady Godolphin, extras) are all wearing distinctly 1690s mantua gowns and tall, lace “fontage” caps. Hey, movie, you gave us a title card stating “London 1688” at the start, and you’ve never indicated that more time has passed than a few days/weeks. You’ve made a point about this being Cornwall, aka the country, and not the London court, so nobody’s ultra fashion-forward. Show some internal consistency with the costumes!
Then all the action happens. No good costumes because Dona runs away wearing just her chemise and a robe/banyan to be with Aubrey and join in pirate shenanigans. She borrows some boy clothes onboard the ship, but all those scenes were dark so I couldn’t get screencaps. Derring is do’ed, swash is buckled, and finally, shagging.
And when she comes back from her little adventure, the shit hits the fan. Dona’s husband, Harry, has randomly decided to visit her and the kids in Cornwall, plus Lord Rockingham and all the local gentry fellas are descending on the house because, uh, pirates, I guess. It’s like they know.
So Dona puts on her semi-dressy gown that, like her fancy ones, is also made of sari fabrics. And, hey!, I think this is what she was wearing on the beach (possibly underneath her riding outfit). However, the chemise with this dress is SUPER CLINGY. Obscenely so. Folks, this is why we don’t make chemises out of poly georgette. Even if I were generous and said it was china silk, it’s still be wrong for film and historically inaccurate. It highlights (ehem) what’s wrong with all her costumes: no structure, no undergarments, not enough layers. Everything she wears has two layers, max. That’s not enough for this period or most any period before the 20th century.
As Dona freaks out about everyone possibly discovering her lover and her complicity, it’s time for dinner! Thus, we get her last fancy dress, which we see on the screen the most, but alas, it’s the worst as far as historical accuracy goes.
I’m glad that last dress is ruined. It wasn’t worth saving. She has a bit more adventure time, with a twist, but that’s all of Lady St. Columb’s outfits. But here’s one final clear pic of her riding outfit.
What do you think of the 1998 Frenchman’s Creek? How does it compare to the earlier one and to the book?
As a rule of thumb, just about anything Anthony Delon played in is not worth watching… He’s not his father, acting wise.
And I feel I must speak up in favor of Sari fabric and especially sari trim: Such work! the beading! The embroidery!… And more for me, the price! (I haz budget for my sewing hobby, sadly)
You can find awesome antique stuff for prices that left me dizzy with joy. Of course, I’ll use mine on Victorian gowns, so I’m more in period.
But for that one, I can hear the costume department wailing about another budget cut… Almost covered by the sobbing coming from the hairdressing trailer, methink.
Where did all the hairpins go?”
I use sari trim A LOT in my pre-19th century stuff. You just gotta find the right look and it will pass for a lot of various eras.
I don’t mind using sari fabrics & trim (I totally do it to!) – but so much in the same production gets tired & obvious.
Is it just me or doesn’t the last picture look really 1912-1914 “European traveller in Egypt” ?
Maybe she’s looking for her hairpins?
I love the costumes in the 1944 Frenchman’s Creek SO MUCH (that orange tissue gown! squee!) so it’s weird to see an inverse of the usual costuming truism. Here’s a 1990s movies where the costumes and hair are, for the most part, bad, as opposed to the 1940s movie, where the costuming and hair are very good. Also, I don’t get the time period change, from the 1660s of the book and the first film, to the 1680s. It’s weird and it doesn’t look like it makes a lot of sense. I’m glad I’ve given it a miss; given my love for the earlier film, it looks like it would make me cranky.
It’s not a 90’s costume drama unless it has Tara Fitzgerald…
Didn’t even know this version existed. However, based on what I’ve seen here, I’ll give it a pass. I liked the earlier one, but at the time I wasn’t paying attention to the costumes.
I need to re- read the book now. It was a favorite many years ago.
Slight tangent but the film looks like it was filmed in the Painted Hall in Greenwich which is near where I live :-) Pretty stunning place and Greenwich naval college is used alot in these sort of productions.