We have touched on the costumes in Marco Polo (2014-2016) a few years back, but we’ve never really dug into them in any meaningful way. The promotional material for the show fell very hard on the side of “Game of Thrones minus the dragons” so I wasn’t much inclined to watch it until I was persuaded to sit down and give it a go recently, by my all-things-Mongol-loving boyfriend.
Let’s just get this out of the way, upfront: The promotional material doesn’t do the level of accuracy and thought show put into the history justice. And contrary to the perception that this was going to be fairly minimal on the costume content, Marco Polo actually delivers a lot of costume eye candy.
I found the fact that, while the show is told through the eyes of the Venetian “explorer” Marco Polo, it does not fall into the “white guy shows up and teaches the savages how to be civilized” trope that, even to this day, gets a lot of traction in these biopics about Europeans coming into contact with non-European cultures. If anything, the show immediately makes it clear that Kublai Khan’s Mongolian court is made up of a mix of cultures and ethnicities, and when Marco is effectively taken hostage in a trade deal gone sour, his perspective is just one of many the Great Khan comes to rely on. The real drama is the precarious tension between the Mongols and the Song Dynasty, which is about to erupt into the sort of blood bath that military historians still love discussing, 800 years later. Toss some forbidden love story elements into the mix, a dash of martial arts, and some really stunning costuming, and it’s an entertaining watch.
Costume designer, Jo Korer, who was a costume supervisor on historical productions like John Adams (2008) and The Duchess (2008), took several trips to Mongolia in preparation for designing the costumes for Marco Polo. She worked with a historian to strike a balance between historical accuracy (always difficult when so little of the material history of these cultures exists) and what “reads” on screen as plausible, yet pleasing to modern sensibilities. I think that she achieved that balance pretty well, all things considered.
All in all, I think this is a good watch if you’re feeling like some eye candy (and believe me, there’s a lot of eye candy) and some cool costumes from an area and era we don’t often see in Western film.
Have you seen Marco Polo on Netflix?