Helena Bonham Carter: The Historical Costume Movies


Nowadays, Keira Knightley is probably the actress who is most associated with costume movies, but rewind about a decade, and it’s all Helena Bonham Carter. Petite; wild, curly, dark hair; and an intensity that’s been there from the beginning. Here is our exhaustive list of every single one of the Helena Bonham Carter costume movie roles:


Phase 1: Merchant/Ivory Dream Girl

A Room With a View (1985)

She Plays: Lucy Honeychurch, proper young upper-middle-class Edwardian English rose, with a dash of relatable tomboy. She heads to Florence with her spinster aunt (the hilarious Maggie Smith) and meets a boy who rocks her world, but she’s not sure if he’s the RIGHT sort of boy…

The Costumes: It’s Merchant/Ivory, designed by Beaven & Bright, what more need I say? The absolute pinnacle of historical accuracy AND good design. It’s enough to make you want to rock the pigeon-fronted silhouette, and that’s saying something.

Special Bonus: Gorgeous Italian and English countryside, Judi Dench as an OTT dramatic novelist, Daniel Day-Lewis as the prig to end all prigs, and cute naked boys romping in a pond.

A Room With a View (1985)

Such floof!

1985 A Room With a View

Hot boy, Tuscan field, what’s not to love?

1985 A Room With a View

Why yes, this IS a damn cute outfit.

1985 A Room With a View

It’s hard to make out when you’re wearing a veil.

1985 A Room With a View

“Can’t… hold… head… up…. under…. weight… of… hair…”

Lady Jane (1986)

She Plays: Lady Jane Grey, famous 16th-century nine days queen. She’s smart and principled without being priggish, she gets to brood and fall in love, and her parents are big meanies. Plus, she gets to be queen for nine whole days!

The Costumes: REALLY well done Tudor era costumes. Ignore all the other contenders, this one gets it right. See our post for the deets.

Special Bonus: Bridesmaids in gold lame!

Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane (1986)

“Nobody in this family understands me.”

1986 Lady Jane

Anyone questioning their commitment to Sparkle Motion?


A Hazard of Hearts (1987)

She Plays: Serena, heroine of this Barbara Cartland romance novel adapted for TV.

The Costumes: I haven’t seen this one, but it looks like your standard 1980s Regency rental costumes.

A Hazard of Hearts (1987)

Francesco (1989)

She Plays: “Chiara” in this docu-drama about St. Francis of Assisi starring Mickey Rourke.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it, looks boring.

1985 Francesco

At least there’s no unfortunate biggins!

The Early Life of Beatrix Potter (1990)

She Plays: Beatrix Potter, children’s book author and illustrator.

The Costumes: All I’ve got is this bad pic of the VHS box cover.

The Early Life of Beatrix Potter (1990)

Not quite Catholic schoolgirl…

Hamlet (1990)

She Plays: Ophelia, duh, to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet.

The Costumes: Confession — I haven’t seen this! I’ve never been able to get past the fact that it stars Mel Gibson! From the images I’ve seen online, it looks like Glenn Close as Gertrude gets all the shiny medieval wear, while Helena/Ophelia is more in nubby linen.

Special Bonus: I got nothing.

Hamlet (1990)

“I embroidered this nubby linen myself?”

Hamlet (1990)

Hot smock action?

1990 Hamlet

Unfortunate Bigginses are always unfortunate.

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)

She Plays: Helen Mirren has married an Italian (gasp!) and had a baby. Helena Bonham Carter is her priggish and disapproving relation, who heads off to Italy to handle the situation.

The Costumes: Edwardian perfection, with HBC in lots of tailored shirtwaist  suits.

Special Bonus: Judy Davis and Rupert Graves!

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)

Judgy relatives to the rescue.

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)

How do you say “I disapprove” in Italian?

Howards End (1992)

She Plays: Helen Schlegel, upper middle class free spirit with a soft spot for the downtrodden.

The Costumes: More Merchant/Ivory perfection, but set a few years later than their previous costume movies — now in 1910, so there’s a dash of bohemianism.

Special Bonus: Bluebells at midnight.

1992 Howards End

“My hair is a clue to my emotional state.”

1992 Howards End

“He has potential, eh?”

1992 Howards End

“This is TOTALLY going to work out.”

Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald (1993)

She Plays: Marina Oswald, wife of the (probable) assassin of John F. Kennedy.

The Costumes: There’s a blonde wig?

Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald (1993)

“Boarding school, anyone?”

Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald (1993)

Slightly more glam.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

She Plays: Elizabeth Frankenstein, true love/wife of Kenneth Branagh’s Victor Frankenstein.

The Costumes: Gorgeous 18th-century outfits, particularly Helena’s redingote and her embroidered wedding dress.

Special Bonus: Hot wedding night make-out scene!

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

“Wait, THIS embroidery?”

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Love the color palette | (c)TriStar Pictures

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Branagh-on-corset action.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Redingote FTW!

A Dark Adapted Eye (1994)

She Plays: Faith Severn, narrator of this WWII psychological thriller.

The Costumes: No clue, haven’t seen it!

A Dark Adapted Eye (1994)

Not the most flattering of hemlines.

Margaret’s Museum (1995)

She Plays: Margaret, who lives in a bleak Nova Scotian mining town in the 1940s.

The Costumes: Did I mention bleak?

Margaret's Museum (1995)

“I’m too depressed to take out my rag curls.”

Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

She Plays: Olivia, who falls in love with a woman-disguised-as-a-boy in the Shakespeare play.

The Costumes: Fabulous late Victorian Aesthetic Movement — lots of medieval-ish fabrics and colors.

Special Bonus: Ben Kingsley as Feste, the fool.

Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)


Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

“Really? You put me in PINK?”

Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

Beautifully trimmed ball gowns.

A Merry War/Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1997)

She Plays: Rosemary, wife of Richard E. Grant, who ditches his well-paying job for poetry in 1930s London.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it!


“Why hasn’t Kendra watched this movie?”

Phase 2: Goth Poster Child

The Wings of the Dove (1997)

She Plays: Kate Croy, upper class and cash poor; in love with a working man (gasp!) but dependent on her rich aunt. Things get complicated when she and her love meet a wealthy American heiress with a fatal illness.

The Costumes: A.MAZ.ING. Set in the early- to mid-1910s, there are GIANT HATS. FORTUNY GOWNS. JEWEL TONES. EMBROIDERY. BEADS. EMBELLISHMENT.

Special Bonus: Dark alley shagging!

1997 The Wings of the Dove


1997 The Wings of the Dove

Someday I will make this. You have been warned.


One out of three here is being genuine.

1997 The Wings of the Dove

Fortuny gowns in Venice!

Wingsof theDove


Merlin (1998)

She Plays: Morgan le Fey, evil sorceress and half-sister to King Arthur.

The Costumes: Fantasy Roman/medieval fabulousness, with rich jewel-toned sari fabrics, lots of bling, and very gothy makeup.

Special Bonus: Helena gets to rock the ugly makeup.

Merlin (1998)

RomanCelticMedievalOid Princess

Merlin (1998)

Nothing a few spells won’t fix.

Nothing a few spells won’t fix.

Henry VIII (2003)

She Plays: Anne Boleyn to Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII.

The Costumes: A step up from The Tudors, but definite fantasy. It’s as though elves have taken over the Tudor court. Lots of perfect-for-RenFaire princess dresses, blingy crowns, and long trailing hair extensions.

Special Bonus: Helena was obviously pregnant throughout the filming, so there’s lots of gowns cut to hide her belly and careful framing.

Henry VIII (2003)

“I’m not using Ray Winstone to hide my pregnancy. Nope.”

Henry VIII (2003)

Shiny shiny shiny!

Henry VIII (2003)

Is crushed velvet better than stretch?

The Heart of Me (2003)

She Plays: Dinah, free spirit who has an affair with her sister’s husband in 1930s London.

The Costumes: Lovely Deco-era hair and gowns.

The Heart of Me (2003)

I want this lipstick | (c) ThinkFilm

The Heart of Me (2003)

“I’m a REALLY bad sister.”

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

She Plays: Beatrice Baudelaire, mother of the orphans around whom the story centers. She dies early on…

The Costumes: …which must be why I can’t find any pictures of her! I know I saw this, but sadly too long ago to remember.

Sixty Six (2006)

She Plays: Esther Reubens, mother of son whose bar mitzvah falls on on the day England plays in the 1966 World Cup Final.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen this Helena Bonham Carter costume movie — any futbol/HBC fans out there want to chime in?

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Nice bouffant!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) / Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) / Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 & 2 (2010/2011)

She Plays: Bellatrix Lestrange, eeeee-vil and crazy witch out to get Harry Potter.

The Costumes: Goth witch fantasy! Crazy hair, laced-up everything, and leather corsets.

Special Bonus: Epic battle with Molly Weasley!

Harry Potter (2007-11)

“Who me?”

Harry Potter

Avada Kevdavra!

Harry Potter

Not insane. Nope.

Enid (2006)

She Plays: Enid Blyton, children’s book author with a complex love life.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen this Helena Bonham Carter costume movie, but it looks like some promising 1930s-wear!

2006 Enid


Enid (2006)

Polka dots!

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

She Plays: Mrs. Lovett, baker of suspicious meat pies.

The Costumes: Every steampunk/goth’s dreams come true: stripes, distressing, tiny top hats, fingerless gloves…

Special Bonus: Johnny Depp AND Helena in goth Victorian bathing suits!

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Steampunk goodness.

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

“Isn’t he dreamy?”

2007 Sweeney Todd- the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Goths at the beach?!

The King’s Speech (2010)

She Plays: Queen Elizabeth, wife of stammering King George VI. She’s the quiet support behind the throne.

The Costumes: Understated and elegant, nothing to jump up and down about.

Special bonus: A party at Balmoral gives us a glimpse of the glamorous Wallis Simpson, livening things up costume-wise.

2010 The King’s Speech

“Maybe they should just put me in charge.”

2010 The King's Speech

Rockin’ the beige.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

She Plays: The Red Queen, off-ing heads right and left!

The Costumes: Crazy, over the top, fabulous, Oscar-winning Colleen Atwood designs.

Special Bonus: All the digital special effects.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Piglets are the new black!

2010 Alice in Wonderland

A little help from the digital effects team. Final Film Frame Helena Bonham Carter ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Great Expectations (2012)

She Plays: Miss Havisham, who has never gotten over being jilted at the altar and is overly invested in screwing with people.

The Costumes: Set slightly earlier than most adaptations, in the late Regency era, there’s a lot of fabulous jewel tones and crazy hair. Helena/Miss Havisham wears an intricately tattered wedding dress inspired by Alexander McQueen.

Great Expectations, 2012

“Ditched by my fiance? Oh I’m TOTALLY fine with it.” | Credit: Johan Persson

Great Expectations, 2012

Each ruffle represents a tear.

Dark Shadows (2012)

She Plays: Dr. Julia Hoffman, live-in psychiatrist to the vampiric Collins family in 1972.

The Costumes: Haven’t seen it, I suck!

Dark Shadows (2012)


Les Misérables (2012)

She Plays: Mme. Thénardier, part of a husband/wife team of scoundrels. She takes in Cosette for the money, and then later shows back up to dredge profit from all the goings-on.

The Costumes: At least on HBC, very Sweeney Todd-esque gothy scum wear.

Special Bonus: Helena Bonham Carter gets to play one half of the comic relief team, a welcome respite from Russell Crowe’s bad singing.

2012 Les Miserables

Foster mother of the year?

2012 Les Miserables

“We clean up just fine!”

Burton & Taylor (2013)

She Plays: Elizabeth Taylor, getting ready to star in a play in 1983, as she wrestles with her ex, Richard Burton.

The Costumes: Glam 1980s Liz with violet contacts!

2013 Burton & Taylor

“Does my hair say ‘Tempestuous’ enough?”

2013 Burton & Taylor

Keeping the makeup understated. As Liz did.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

She Plays: Red Harrington, brothel madam and assistant to the heroes.

The Costumes: I haven’t actually seen this one, but I admit I do love her look here! It’s very Tim Burton/Colleen Atwood/Helena Bonham Carter, so probably nothing new, but I’m a sucker for a redhead.

Special Bonus: Huge amounts of cultural sensitivity, LOL?

2013 The Lone Ranger

Froofy redheaded madam action!

2013 The Lone Ranger

“My genius is wasted on this town.”

What’s the Next Helena Bonham Carter Costume Movie?

Cinderella (2015)

Playing against type — you’d expect her to be the wicked stepmother — we’ll next see HBC as the Fairy Godmother in the Disney live-action Cinderella. The trailer was just released, and it looks FABulous. Helena Bonham Carter looks like she’s in a 1930s version of 18th century, in the best possible way.

Cinderella (2015)

“Glass slippers are REALLY comfortable!”

Suffragette (2015)

Helena joins Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan in a film about the women’s suffrage movement in the UK. She’ll be playing Edith New, militant activist.

Suffragette (2015)

Srs feminist is srs.


Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass

The sequel to the 2010 film, I’m assuming it’ll be more off-with-their-heads shenanigans.


So what’s your favorite role HBC has played? Have you seen one of these costume movies I haven’t? Share in the comments below.

12 Responses

  1. Trystan

    I saw Dark Shadows, & it sucked, not you, Kendra! I’m saying that as a fan of the original TV show, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, & HBC. That movie was a total waste of everybody’s time & talent.

    I also disliked Great Expectations, I thot HBC kind of chewed the scenery with Miss Havisham a bit too much. Then again, I hate Charles Dickens bec. (among other things) he writes crappy female characters, so it’s not like she had a lot to work with. I’d wear the outfit tho.

  2. Kendra

    Phew, glad to hear I don’t HAVE to go watch Dark Shadows. Just sounds like The Addams Family update, minus Wednesday burning her blonde nemesis at the stake.

    I don’t hate Dickens for his crappy female characters, but I find it hard to get excited. I saw the HBC Great Expectations but I don’t really remember too much about it! I do like the costumes, tho. The stuff on Holliday Grainger as Estella remind me very much of the Reese Witherspoon Vanity Fair.

  3. Anne

    I know it is difficult, but Hamlet was surprisingly good. I don’t like him either, but I like Shakespeare, and I LOVE Helena. Her performance is outstanding and his doesn’t suck (unlike a certain Romeo who makes watching that version so very very painful). I encourage you to watch it, and then have one of your favorite movies as a chaser.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      I LOVED Mel Gibson’s Hamlet! It helped that I discovered it as an angsty goth teenager, so I was totally primed for the angsty, tortured scenery chewing. Loved the costumes, too. Glen Close has some fabulous gowns, and even HBC’s Ophelia gets some pretty outfits before she dives into madness. Also, she is great in the role. Absolutely perfectly cast!

  4. Colleen Crosby

    She was all costumey in Big Fish, but I’m not sure what I’d call the costumes…

    • Trystan

      Ooo, I forgot she was even in that! Cute movie. But essentially modern era (with fantasy elements), I think?

    • Kendra

      That was one of my “should I include this?” questionable ones… and I admit, the one where I said, “fuck it, I’m done!”

  5. angie kirby

    I don’t know if anyone has watched this,but one of her first movies was A Hazard of Hearts.It’s based on a novel set in the Regency era and she looks lovely.