Gabriella Pescucci is one of my favorite costume designers, specifically for her work on The Age of Innocence and The Borgias — you also probably know her for Dangerous Beauty and Penny Dreadful. I’m always fascinated by looking at designers’ work over time, so let’s take a wander through this talented designer’s historical film projects, going back to some podunk Italian productions but then ending up with some Major Costume Movies!
The Seven Cervi Brothers (1968)
A World War II movie: “The true story of seven Italian brothers, farmers and Catholic, who became Communist and fought for justice and freedom against Fascism.” Not much about the images I’ve found looks very 1940s!
Many Wars Ago (1970)
An Italian World War I movie.
The Murri Affair (1974)
IMDB says: “Based on a true incident, this tells the story of a troubled young man who kills his sister’s reactionary, violent, and abusive husband and is eventually arrested for the murder. However, the dead husband happened to be a member of the Italian nobility, and the trial starts to turn into more of a prosecution of the defendant’s socialist politics and the activities of his father, a well known liberal social reformer, than the actual crime itself.” Sounds pretty interesting, especially given the nice Edwardian costumes seen below!
The Divine Nymph (1975)
A love triangle set in the 1920s.
Il Gabbiano (1977)
An adaptation of a Chekov play-within-a-play.
Passion of Love (1981)
1860s, Italy, love, insanity.
That Night in Varennes (1982)
One at the very top of my shortlist — a fictional story whereby American patriot Thomas Paine, Casanova, the French novelist Restif de La Bretonne, and one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting are all traveling in a coach to Varennes, and happen to be right behind the royal family who are attempting to make their escape.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Pescucci’s first American film: Robert de Niro as a former Prohibition-era gangster in Manhattan.
Good King Dagobert (1984)
A French, medieval-era film — I think it’s a comedy?
The Name of the Rose (1986)
Every parents’ favorite when I was growing up, I’ve never bothered to see it although I know I SHOULD! Sean Connery, Christian Slater, medieval monks, murder, and tonsures.
The Family (1987)
A man’s life story from his birth in 1906 to his 80th birthday.
Haunted Summer (1988)
I feel somewhat offended that Trystan hasn’t reviewed this one yet! WTF? “In 1815, authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley get together for some philosophical discussions, but the situation soon deteriorates into mind games, drugs, and sex” (per IMDB). What gives, T?
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
A fabulous, hilarious, and weird historically-inspired fantasy film! Pescucci’s first (of many) collaboration with director Terry Gilliam. The Baron Munchausen tells many tall tales of his adventures; somewhat set in the Regency era.
I saw this back in the day, but don’t remember anything except it being depressing. Catherine Deneuve plays a French woman living at the end of the colonial era in what would become Vietnam (1930), there’s a love triangle between her and her adopted daughter.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
And, now we get to the Extra Good Stuff. Have there ever been better bustles on film? I think not!
Per Amore, Solo per Amore (1993)
The birth of Jesus, told from Joseph’s point of view — Penélope Cruz plays Mary.
The Night and the Moment (1994)
Okay, so it’s a Dangerous Liaisons rip off — there are still some nice elements to the 18th-century costumes (and some theatrical shortcuts).
Solomon & Sheba (1995)
Halle Berry as the Biblical queen.
The Scarlet Letter (1995)
So Demi Moore was miscast in this adaptation of the classic novel, the 17th-century costumes were still gorgeous!
Slave of Dreams (1995)
More Biblical fun! “The Egyptian executioner’s wife tries to seduce Hebrew slave Joseph to fulfill a dream they are experiencing simultaneously” (IMDB). Starring a really weird cast of Edward James Olmos and Sherilyn Fenn, among others.
Albergo Roma (1996)
Italy, 1939, Mussolini is about to visit a small town when things get more complicated…
Dangerous Beauty (1998)
Another highlight (or lowlight, depending on your opinion!). Yes, there’s the WTF “courtesan” costumes, but there’s also some great late 16th-century Italian wear on both women and men, plus Rufus Sewell.
Les Misérables (1998)
Not my favorite adaptation. Liam Neeson, Claire Danes, 1830s snoozefest.
Cousin Bette (1998)
Not a totally successful adaptation of the Balzac novel, but Pescucci’s spot-on 1840s costumes are a definitely highlight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)
Haven’t seen it (sorry!). Yes, it’s fantasy, but this adaptation bookends things in the Edwardian era.
Marcel Proust’s Time Regained (1999)
An adaptation of the famous novel, but that’s all I can tell you!
Van Helsing (2004)
Oh dear. To quote our Trystan, “SUCH a shitty movie.” Not even the fabulous Kate Beckinsale can save us.
Secret Passage (2004)
1492, Jews escaping from Spain only to face the Inquisition in Venice.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
A not-totally-successful, but still worth-watching, tale of the famous folk tale collectors set in the early 19th century. The highlight are Pescucci’s stunning fantasy costumes on Monica Bellucci’s evil queen.
A CGI animated version of the classic Anglo-Saxon tale, but even in animation, someone has to design the costumes!
A really engrossing movie starring the fabulous Rachel Weisz as the ancient philosopher Hypatia.
The Borgias (2011-13)
SO MUCH SHINY FABULOUS 1490S COSTUMES I CAN’T EVEN.
Penny Dreadful (2014-16)
I admit to only watching one episode (gothy horror not being my thing), but what I saw in terms of costumes? STUNNING.
What’s your favorite of Gabriella Pescucci’s costume designs?
I love her work, but my favourites are (in no particular order) The Borgias, Age of Innocence, Midsummer Night’s Dream (Titania’s blue/teal dress alone would add it to list – see Twitter post under Lady Cecily Neville), Dangerous Beauty, Penny Dreadful. Will have to try to find the others.
Didn’t know she did Baron Munchausen and am impressed. That is one of the most visually amazing films ever made.
Totally! Plus I love Terry Gilliam’s work.
Yeah, I’ve reviewed Gothic & Rowing Against the Wind, but I’ll have to find a copy of Haunted Summer — it was in my college goth movie rotation, natch, but I haven’t seen it since & don’t remember anything about the costumes!
Whip crack! It’s got Alice Krige/the Borg Queen!
Surprising how many times the Mary Shelley thing has been re-hashed. FYI, the Queen of Sheba’s name was Balchis. Don’t remember where I ran across that nugget, but there it is. I guess “The Borgias” is my pick of what I’ve seen of her work. Was in “The Age of Innocence” The wife made her own bodice, then had trouble convincing Wardrobe it wasn’t theirs. Ryder looked quite ill through most of the 2-day shoot (the opera sequence).
I LIKE VAN HELSING! [runs and hides…]
We still love you!
I’ve loved her work for some time, but Penny Dreadful quickly became my favorite. I LUURRRVVEEE the (sadly) brief period post-bustle and pre-Gibson Girl and Eva Green wears those costumes SOOO very well.
Eva Green is really growing on me — hmm, I should do a WCW on her!
Yes, please. I have been a fan since Golden Compass.
Eva Green was great in Miss Peregrine — would love to see a Frock Flicks about that movie too!
“Van Helsing” would have been a better movie if they hadn’t killed Anna Valerious near the end. I almost felt like howling and crying along with Van Helsing when he realized what he’d done as a werewolf when that happened :(. It isn’t technically a “historical fiction” film. In fact, it’s kind of an “alternate history/steampunk/fantasy/horror” film. Hell, Van Helsing was NEVER an actual badass warrior on a leather trench with a super-cool crossbow. In most Dracula stories, he’s an old man and a professor! This was totally a “drool over Hugh Jackman” movie for the girls, and for the guys, it was a “drool over the action, violence, and Kate Beckinsale” movie. Plus, Anna was supposed to be a Gypsy Princess and an action girl, hence the kick-ass outfit. What bothers me is some of the story-writing was ridiculous, but the action scenes and special-effects were great.
“The Brothers Grimm” story would have been better if they’d spent more time on the writing and developing the characters more. Plus, they REALLY could have left out the gross stuff. Seriously. The concept was interesting, but the execution wasn’t so great. (Of course, considering who the director was, I’m amazed it wasn’t a film worthy of the most Razzies for the year). This film also gives you an early look at Lena Headley before she played Cersei Lannister.
One of the most irritating trends I’ve seen among adult fairy-tale fans is, they like focusing on the violent, gross, nitty-gritty parts of the stories written down by the Brothers Grimm, and frankly, I really don’t enjoy seeing stuff like that turned into a violent grub-fest. They’re called “fairy tales” for a reason, not because of the bloodbaths or the dirt. It kind of robs the stories of the beauty and wonder that people originally loved.
A lot of people really liked the Mirror Queen’s gown, though I thought some of the proportions were really insane, like the mile-long sleeves and train, or the devil-horns hennin. (Seriously, real medieval hennins were NEVER shaped like that, even the double ones). Her costume was so popular, it ended up in a SIMS game! “The Sims Medieval” has a modest and a slutty version of the dress, but with shorter sleeves and no train on the skirt.
“Beowulf” was the very first CGI cartoon I had ever seen that was gratuitously gross and violent. I have NEVER, in my ENTIRE LIFE seen such a gory cartoon before that. Even “Starship Troopers” couldn’t measure up to that. Plus, I hated how it made the men weak towards Grendel’s mother’s sexual wiles and power, and despite slaying her children, she still technically wins in the end. That is NOT how the ancient poem goes, sorry. Its only good offering was the epic music and incredible CGI work. If you didn’t know it was a CGI cartoon, you could almost mistake the people for the real deal.
Most of these movies and tv shows I’ve never seen or even heard of, but I guess it’s better that I hadn’t. I might still try the Borgias, though. I hear it was better than the Tudors.
Van Helsing — sure, you’re right, but it’s still a baaaaaaad movie!
Brothers Grimm had its problems, but I’m guessing that there may have been some studio interference. Who knows!
I’m not a huge gore fan, but I do like the realification (I just made up that word) of fairy tales. I find it interesting! But ANYTHING being more gore-y than Starship Troopers is impressive!
I’m happy to see “la nuit de Varennes” mentionned in frockflicks. I like the costumes and the set design of this movie, far from the glamorous 18th century, we are accustomed to see. Moreover, it turns out to be a movie about a costume, as we see in the scene with the mannequin and LouisXVI’s uniform.
I find Indochine depressing too. But the costumes are very classy.
I have very mixed feelings about Penny Dreadful as a show (they just didn’t stick the landing), but the costumes are amazing all the way through. In particular, there’s a ball scene in Season Two that features probably the best interplay of lighting and the colors chosen by the costumer as a way to convey mood that I can remember.
Also, there’s this fantastic background detail: a sign that reads “Mme Pescucci, Dressmaker.”
“The Borgias”! Always, always, always “The Borgias”! Followed closely by “The Age of Innocence”.
I love that Ms. Pescucci can design costumes which are both historically accurate and fabulous. No one does it better, IMHO!
I was at a talk about Mary Shelley and ‘Haunted Summer’ came up. The giver of the talk had never seen it. I’m now about to fall down the rabbit hole that is YouTube to see if I can track it down and feed my inner Lord Byron fangirl. Send prayers and popcorn!
Someone needs to watch it and report back!