But the costumes are on point! Goya’s Ghosts came out back in 2006, and although I liked what I saw of the costumes, I was so confused by the plot and the lackluster reviews that I never bothered to watch it. Cue some Spanish history podcasts and an upcoming Regency weekend for which I’m making a ton of 1790s costumes, and I decided to fire it up. Overall? Great costumes, no idea what’s going on with the plot.
The film was directed by Miloš Forman (Amadeus, Valmont), so he knows his period costume flicks even if those didn’t have the most stellar of costumes. I’m totally unclear what the point of the film actually was, and while I could Google Forman’s thoughts on the film, I kind of think that most films should at least in some part speak for themselves. So, I’m not going to do the work for him! Basically, the film starts in 1792 with famed Spanish painter Francisco Goya (randomly played by Swede Stellan Skarsgård) painting a portrait of the daughter of a Spanish noble family, Inez (Natalie Portman), who comes under the fire of the Spanish Inquisition, led by a monk (Javier Bardem). She’s imprisoned for decades, Bardem’s character has a crisis of faith and leaves Spain, only to come back in 1808 when Napoleon’s troops invade. Inez finally gets out of prison, she’s got a daughter (Alicia, also played by Portman) who’s working as a prostitute. Goya tries to help Inez track down her daughter, while Bardem’s character tries to make things difficult and ends up himself the target of the Spanish Inquisition. Good lord (literally?)! WHAT point is this trying to make? Oh, and of course, this is all fictional, so once again, I ask, WHYYYY?
Luckily the film’s costumes were designed by Yvonne Blake (Nicholas and Alexandra, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, Flesh+Blood), and they are pretty damn spot on for 1792 and 1808 Spain. So let’s just ignore the pointless plot and look at the costumes, shall we? I can’t find much information from Blake herself on the designs, other than that she was aiming for realistic and really looking to Goya’s paintings as sources, which she did VERY successfully:
“When I designed Goya’s Ghosts, of course, Goya’s paintings were my reference so the colors are much more subtle and the entire film looks much more believable, much more real” (FilmCraft: Costume Design).
“I think that, concerning the costume, my best work is Goya’s Ghosts (2006) because the result was really realistic. It is also quite a recent film. In my opinion, our work improves as we get older; we feel more secure as we have a better control of our work. When I was young, I felt so insecure. I continue being insecure, but it is a different matter. Now, I organise myself in a different way and I enjoy it more. I particularly enjoyed that film; working with Milos Forman was a great pleasure; he is a great director. Probably, this is the work I feel most proud of” (Universitat de Barcelona interview with Yvonne Blake).
The men’s costumes (those that aren’t religious) are nicely done for the era:
Bardem is mostly in monk’s robes until the 1808 scenes, at which point he’s in slightly dated (more Directoire/1790s than Empire/1800s) clothes, but which are lovely:
But, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? Natalie Portman plays Inez, daughter of a noble family. We first meet her in a stripey dress, dark waistcoat-y thing, and lace veil:
What got me excited was the “maja” style dress worn by Portman. “Majos” (men) and “majas” (women) were lower class Spaniards, particularly from Madrid, who wore elaborate outfits with some very unique elements that, along with their mannerisms, were read as flamboyant and cocky. I’ll discuss the specifics of the style in a moment, but for now, know that the majas were considered seductive, flirty, and desirable, and as such their dress was often adapted by the Spanish upper classes. You can read more about maja dress and Goya’s paintings in Aileen Ribeiro’s essay, “Fashioning the Feminine: Dress in Goya’s Portraits of Women,” in Goya: Images of Women, as well as Susannah Worth’s (very long) Ph.D. dissertation, “Andalusian dress and the Andalusian image of Spain: 1759—1936.” Other sources, which you’ll probably have to get from a library or pay for, include:
- Noyes, Dorothy. “La Maja Vestida: Dress as Resistance to Enlightenment in Late-18th-Century Madrid.” Journal of American Folklore 111:440 (1998): 197-217.
- Worth, Susannah and Lucy R. Sibley. “Maja Dress and the Andalusian Image of Spain.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 12:4 (1994): 51-60.
- Zenardi, T. “Fashioning the Duchess of Alba: Vicarious Thrills and Sartorial Flirtations During the Spanish Enlightenment.” Fashion Theory 14:1 (March 2010): 7-44.
I’ve discussed maja dress a bit in reviews previously, but I’d like to give a few more details so that you know why these costumes made me so happy! Maja dress (which continued to be worn through the 19th century) included:
- Menswear-inspired jackets, often with revers (turnbacks), buttons, and cutaway front revealing a waistcoat:
- Pleated ribbon trims, particularly at the armhole:
- Angular stylings, like the points on this waistcoat:
- Ankle-length, very decorated skirts called “basquiña” that, by showing the ankles, were considered very saucy:
- The “cofia,” a cap that appears to have been made either of silk taffeta or netted cords trimmed with a bunch of ribbon bows at the top and a tassel at the bottom:
- The mantilla, the famous long lace veil:
Now, let’s look at Blake’s designs for Portman’s two characters and compare them with the images above!
Now we move to 1808, and Portman is playing Inez’s daughter, Alicia. Her main dress caused ALL SORTS of raised eyebrows when stills first came out — trust me, I remember:
Now, a look at some other characters. RANDY QUAID plays King Carlos IV, and color me shocked that he’s just fine in the role!
Inez’s family is only seen in the 1792 scenes, and they’re dressed beautifully. Mom is still rocking the late 1780s look, which makes sense given her age:
Queen María Luisa shows up as Goya is painting her:
And, Joseph Bonaparte (short-lived king of Spain) and his family/retinue:
I can’t really recommend the film as a film per se, but I did love the costumes, so I’ll let you decide whether to give this one a whirl!
Have you seen Goya’s Ghosts? Do you have any idea what the point of the movie was?