This is an occasional series highlighting historical movie and TV costumes that best represent the decade they were produced in. They may or may not be the most historically accurate, but we think these costumes stand out as icons of when they were made. Comment with your faves, and watch the blog for the next decade we review!
For a decade that gets crapped on constantly for its fashion choices, the 1970s were a weirdly rich era for historical movies and television, with surprisingly high production values and large costuming budgets that allowed for a rarely seen level of historical accuracy on film. We haven’t seen anything quite like it since!
The English Civil War, starring Alec Guinness and Richard Harris.
The Railway Children (1970)
I remember watching this movie in 6th grade after we read the book that the film is based on.
Keith Michell stars as a very convincing Henry VIII, as the series covers each of his six wives.
Literally the only screen version of Elizabeth I you should pay any attention to, with Glenda Jackson as the Virgin Queen. The six part series covers the length of her reign and the costumes are some of the best for this era that have ever appeared on film.
Glenda Jackson reprises her role as Queen Elizabeth, opposite Vanessa Redgrave as the titular Mary, Queen of Scots. The film does what the 2018 Mary, Queen of Scots tried to do but so much better and with a way better costuming department.
Another movie I remember seeing on reruns as a kid in the 1980s. The casting was particularly good.
Antony and Cleopatra (1972)
Blonde Cleopatra. That’s really all I have to say about this.
Probably one of the most iconic films of the decade, regardless of it being historical. Set in 1920s Berlin, Liza Minnelli arguably cemented her irrefutable status as the camp queen of all time in this Bob Fosse-choreographed cinematic tour de force.
The Godfather (1972)
Another iconic 1970s film, regardless of historical motif. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as father and son withing a mafia family in the 1950s.
Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)
Two years after the miniseries came out, it was reshot as a feature length film with some of the actors recast. Keith Michell reprises his role as Henry VIII.
Lady Caroline Lamb (1972)
This movie looks like it was a whole thing.
A lavish biopic about Billie Holiday, staring Diana Ross. The costumes look amazing.
Having grown up with MASH, it never really dawned on me that it was set in the 1950s until WAY later. But heck, everyone loves it, so here it is!
The best, in my not so humble opinion, of all the zillions of Musketeer versions made so far.
An Italian film about the death of King Ludwig II. The costumes look A-MAZING. This is definitely something I’m going to have to track down and give a serious watch.
The Godfather II (1974)
The sequel has an extensive flashback scene to the early 1900s before picking up again in the 1950s.
Starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, this film couldn’t get any more 1970s unless it cast Raquel Welch in it.
One of the most quintessential British historical miniseries ever made, this long running show is considered the spiritual predecessor to Downton Abbey.
I honestly felt that the film was a total clunker, but the costumes are fabulous.
Edward the King (1975)
Timothy West stars as Edward VII, Helen Ryan as Queen Alexandra, and Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria (she won a BAFTA for this role).
Eleanor and Franklin (1976)
There were actually two separate miniseries dealing with the pre-White House years of their marriage and the post-White House years.
I dare anyone to find a more decade-defining historical miniseries than this. DARE YOU.
Before Aidan Turner made us all thirsty for shirtless man action, the Beeb released this take on the novels by Winston Graham. And Trystan will probably fight you if you say it’s not as good as the recent series.
THE COSTUMES IN THIS MOVIE ARE AMAZING AND ANNETTE CROSBIE IS A DELIGHT. I AM SHOUTING BECAUSE THIS IS IMPORTANT.
The Duellists (1977)
Back in the day when Ridley Scott was super anal retentive about historical accuracy, this film is kind of his showpiece. I’ve seen it numerous times, but since I don’t know much about early-19th century military uniforms, it’s hard for me to say anything beyond “Oooh, pretty.”
One of the most well-known and influential historical miniseries of the 20th century, Roots sought to center the history of enslaved people in the American South.
Who doesn’t want an Agatha Christie adaption starring Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, and Peter Ustinov (among SO MANY OTHERS)?
Francesca Annis reprises her role as Lillie Langry (from Edward the King). The costumes are STUNNING.
A Woman Called Moses (1978)
Cicely Tyson plays Harriet Tubman in this biopic of Tubman’s remarkable life organizing the Underground Railroad.
Pretty Baby (1978)
Literally the only thing I know about this film is that 12-year-old Brooke Shields appeared nude in it. But because it was such a controversial film that basically challenged the entire movie-going population’s comfort with pre-teen nude scenes, it bears mentioning here.
The 1840s costuming looks good, but I’m skeptical that it can hold my notoriously short attention span.
It’s a Polanski film, which might tell you everything you need to know about it. But the costumes look amazing.
What’s your favorite iconic historical movie costume of the 1970s? What would you add to the list?