Lady Jane (1986)


If you were female and born between the years of the late 1960s and early 1980s, you probably remember the film, Lady Jane. Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes star in the screen adaptation of the last year or so of the life of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen of England. And if you were teenage me, in particular, you probably identified heavily with the highly ideological teenage protagonist and her stubborn feminism as she tried to exert Agency(TM) over her life while being forced into marriage with a totally hot blond who enjoys all the trappings of The Patriarchy(TM) and yet, somehow, the two fall in love and come to deeply respect one another before both die tragic deaths. You know, the kind of love story a budding intellectual feminist teenager dreams of.

So romantic!

Anyway, on to the costumes.

I think the costuming holds up, almost 30 years later. Surprising for this era, since a lot of film costuming from the 80s looks dated now (Amadeus, anyone?). There are a few incongruous costumes for the era, particularly with regards to the wedding outfits (which I discuss below), and some WTF headgear on some of the supporting actresses, but overall, Lady Jane is a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 on the film costume accuracy scale. The costumers are Sue Blane, who is best known for her work on Rocky Horror Picture Show, and David Perry, whose major screen achievement seems to be Alien 3 (he appears to have died young, in 1995). The IMDB credits don’t distinguish between who designed what, or if one was an assistant to the other, so I’ll just treat them as a single unit.

Frances Grey, Jane’s mother

Jane’s mother, Frances Grey, Marchioness of Dorset, is TOTALLY the Evil Queen in this fairytale. Played by Sara Kestleman, Frances is seethingly ambitious and absolutely willing to throw her daughter under the bus in order to get ahead. The sad thing, of course, is that in real life, Frances actually did wash her hands of her daughter after Jane was overthrown by Mary’s forces and was very quick to throw herself on the new Queen’s mercy the moment her husband and child are hauled off to the Tower for treason. Frances goes on to live a comfortable life, enjoying the favor of Mary I. Someone should really write a biography of Frances and Mary, because they are such an interesting duo. One can only speculate that Mary spared Frances out of sentimentalism, something Mary was known for, since they were first cousins and Mary had a soft spot for charity cases.

Lady Jane (1986)

Can you feel the evil from here? © Paramount

Lady Jane (1986)

How about now?

This particular outfit of the Marchioness’ is notable because in the beating scene, she removes her doublet to show a pair of stays underneath.

Lady Jane (1986)

Crappy screen cap courtesy of CTRL+SHIFT+3 and YouTube.

Those of you who are familiar with 16th century patterns will likely recognize the entire ensemble is straight out of Janet Arnold and, by extension, Alcega. The stays are similar in shape to the Dorothea bodies, and the skirt and farthingale underneath are definitely the shape you get when you enlarge Alcega’s patterns for both.

Princess Mary

1986 Lady Jane

Actually not the villain in this story, if you can believe it.

OMG, I love love love the costume worn by Jane Lapotaire as Princess Mary. I wish there were better screencaps of her costumes out there, because my crappy screencaps off YouTube don’t do this outfit justice.

1986 Lady Jane

Don’t let the costume lie to you, she’s seriously the least of Jane’s problems.

The costumers are clearly adept at interpreting the correct silhouette on the actress, adapted from this famous portrait of Antonis Mor of Mary I:

Mary I, Antonis Mor, 1554.

Mary I, Antonis Mor, 1554.


Jane’s Blue Dress

1986 Lady Jane

Most of the movie has Jane in various black or dark gray outfits (because she’s goth! Er, serious!) but when she starts to open up to Guilford, she is shown wearing a slate blue gown. Overall, it’s a good fit and cut, but the sleeves are either Italian from a generation earlier, or German, from a generation later. I can’t figure out which, but it’s a cute dress, so I’m not going to freak out about it. Here’s a run down of most of Jane’s looks in the movie:

1986 Lady Jane

Angsty couple is angsty. And pretty.

1986 Lady Jane

Forever alone.

1986 Lady Jane

Going to the chopping block in style.

The Wedding Outfits

1986 Lady Jane


Jane’s wedding dress actually comes across on screen as a pretty spectacular piece of clothing, but you can see in the stills that it is almost entirely made of gold lamé. Dudley’s wedding suit, on the other hand, is made of silk damask and lined in silk satin, with fanciful beaded appliqués on the revers of the coat.

1986 Lady Jane

Lady Jane Grey is having none of your patriarchal bullshit. Meanwhile, Guilford Dudley is wondering when he can get back to whatever whorehouse they pulled him out of to haul him into matrimony with a scowling Puritan.

1986 Lady Jane

Hair by Dyson. Hats by the Russian Orthodox Church.

And finally, I wish I had a clearer shot of the wedding party, because all this lamé is fabulous:

1986 Lady Jane

Anyone questioning their commitment to Sparkle Motion?


So, now that you’ve been reacquainted with the costumes in Lady Jane, what do you think?



About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

12 Responses

  1. Trystan

    Heh, I never noticed all the lamé. Now I want to rewatch the flick, bec. *of course* this was significant for me!

  2. spots and feathers

    Been a very long time since I have watch this. Like 20 years ago. Might have to watch it for the costumes.

  3. sistersuzi

    Sue Blane and David Perry were senior wardrobe staff at the RSC when I worked there – David mainly supervised the men’s department, Sue was over all. They worked with Trevor Nunn when he was in charge there. Sara Kestelman and many of the rest of the cast were also at the RSC when I was – weren’t they lucky!

  4. Susan

    LOVED this movie passionately. Watched it a few years ago and it struck me as….melodramatic? Just a tad. Probably all the swelling choruses of angels during certain moments. I’d love for you to podcast this – I always thought poor baby Helena looked like she was playing dress up in her mother’s clothes.

  5. Adam Lid

    I like the opening hunting scene the best. And Patrick Stewart gets to be a real ass- based a Ren Faire character around it. :-)

  6. PGF

    The movie had me at the scene where Patrick Stewart is interacting with his two gorgeous Irish Wolfhounds in the presence of Lady Frances and Northumberland, right before they spring the marriage proposal on Jane. But the rest of the movie is quite compelling, and so sad.

  7. Anna Wasserman

    I fell in love with Lady Jane Grey because of this film and proceeded to devour every book about her I could find. Thank you for recapping.