Reader Request Review: Frenchman’s Creek (1998)


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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

This is the only time in the entire movie you’ll see Dona’s hair done up in historically accurate 1680s style. Nice, isn’t it?

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Hard to get a long shot of her in this outfit — but I wanted to show the contrasting skirt. Which wasn’t super-common in formalwear of the period. More typical was to have the bodice and skirt the same color.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Dona confronts her loser husband Harry (James Fleet), far left. The cut of her gown is quite good for the period — remember that, bec. it’s all downhill from here.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

I wish she was wearing something interesting to travel in, but nope, just cloak over wench-y garb (wait for it).

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Her daughter, Henrietta, turns out to be a little shit. And she’s played by Anna Popplewell, who grows up to play Lola, one of MQoS’ ladies in waiting on Reign. Coincidence?

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

And we’re home.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

The face is definitely Tara Fitzgerald…

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

…but the gown and pose are very historical. Could they be inspired by an actual period portrait? Hmm…

Hey, how about this portrait of Nell Gwyn, 1675, by Peter Lely! Add some jewelry and lace, remove the sheep, but the dress is identical, down to the way the chemise is puffing out at the neckline.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

The servants and children at least wear decent, simple historical garb.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Here’s where things get weird: Dona goes for a ride, and then we see her walking along the beach. So she was wearing this gown underneath her riding coat and waistcoat? Even though none of that dark reddish skirt was visible when she was walking downstairs in the house or riding the horse? Did she bunch it up in her ass or what?

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

This is riding away after walking on the beach. Note the long white skirt draped over the horse. Where’s the reddish skirt? LAYERS MATTER.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

I don’t know why anyone would run around without a stomacher when her bodice is so flimsily laced. Or when her chemise is so sheer.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Somewhere underneath all that hair, Dona meets Aubrey (Anthony Delon).

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?

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Looks more historical with the stomacher, but I’m still not impressed by the off-the-shoulder chemise. Or the hair.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Better view of the bodice/skirt combo — the cut looks OK for the period. It’s hard to nitpick fit or fabric when I’m annoyed that she’s running around in her underwear.

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!

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Dona’s elaborately decorated blue-green-gold bodice. Note fontage cap on woman in the background.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Again, Dona in the front right, and extra in the back wearing 1690s gown and cap. One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…

Janet Arnold, fashions of 1670, 1680, & 1690

Here’s our history lesson, courtesy of Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, 1660-1860.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

The sex is very romance novel-y.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

I want to like this robe because it’s almost a typical 17th/18th-c. banyan. Except, those front lacing rings throw me off — it’s too ‘trying to be ye olde timey.’

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

The back of her robe is pleated to control the fullness.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Pretty sari trim.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)


Frenchman's Creek (1989)

The only good thing I can say about this is that the gown uses spiral lacing.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Looks good from the top, right? Rockingham agrees.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Aubrey’s a fan too.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

WTF are those buckles across the front?

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

Really, buckles? That’s it, just a few little buckles across the bodice, and, bam, there’s the chemise. As I said, not enough layers.

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.

Frenchman's Creek (1989)

I’m still not sure if that reddish dress is underneath this.


What do you think of the 1998 Frenchman’s Creek? How does it compare to the earlier one and to the book?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

11 Responses

  1. picasso Manu

    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.

    “Oh woe,
    Where did all the hairpins go?”

    • Sarah Lorraine

      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.

  2. Daniel C

    Is it just me or doesn’t the last picture look really 1912-1914 “European traveller in Egypt” ?

  3. Joanne Renaud

    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.

  4. Andrea

    It’s not a 90’s costume drama unless it has Tara Fitzgerald…

  5. Kathleen Norvell

    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.

  6. Elizabeth Howell

    I need to re- read the book now. It was a favorite many years ago.

  7. Kelly Wilkinson

    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.