With an overload of historical costume movies and TV series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, broadcast TV (including Turner Movie Classics), actual movie theaters, and more, we spend way too much time in front of a screen, trying to get through our backlog. Alas, not every flick set in the past is worth our time (though for ones we DO review, use the search box or menus to peruse the archives!).
Here’s a little behind-the-scenes info: There are a lot of snoozy historical costume movies and TV shows out there! We’re not talking Snark Week-worthy travesties — we LURVE watching those. But some stuff is just weak tea. These are boring movies, the dull shows, the ones with mediocre costumes and stories that can’t even rise up to the level of camp entertainment. Or the ones that are mildly entertaining, maybe have ‘good-enough’ costuming, or are moderately snark-worthy, but we can’t be arsed to work up a sweat about it.
Thus, here is our occasional series with simple one-line reviews of things we’ve tried to watch but just don’t care enough about to write a whole blog post or podcast. Your mileage may vary!
Anne of Green Gables (2016)
A reboot of the beloved classic, and maybe if you love the classic, you’ll love this. I haven’t read the book(s) nor have I seen the original show, so coming in cold, this felt slow, tedious, and suitable only for small children. Also, predictable as hell. Nice 1900s costumes, pretty settings, and OK performances considering the material, but a total snoozefest. — Trystan
A decently funny, 1920s-set adaptation of some P.G. Wodehouse stories. I was amused by Jennifer Saunders as the bitchy sister and, in particular, total dimwit airhead son Freddie — who, I need to note, is played by the same actor who plays George Warleggan on Poldark. Plus, there are pig jokes! — Kendra
The Courage to Love (2000)
Set in pre-Civil War New Orleans, this is based on the true story of Henriette Delille, a Creole women who founded a convent instead of becoming a white man’s mistress / common-law “wife,” as her mother and sister did and was common at the time. While I’d love to see an in-depth treatment of this period and society, this flick is more obsessed with the religious aspect over any of the complicated racism of the period. It just gets very treacly and preachy. The costumes are decent for the 1850s, but the story should be set 20 years earlier. — Trystan
Home Fires (2015-2016)
A not-bad but not-thrilling drama about women in a rural British community during World War II. I liked that it’s female-centered, but the storylines weren’t the most original or fascinating. Decent performances and very nice (if un-flashy) 1940s costumes and hair. The second and final season is coming PBS in 2017 if this is your thing. — Trystan
Medici: Masters of Florence (2016-)
Mildly entertaining political thriller series about the rise of the Medici family in the 1420s, focusing on Cosimo Medici (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones fame). Generally historical, if dull, men’s costumes, but both dull and sometimes awfully inaccurate women’s costumes, accented by very modern makeup. Distracted by the smokey eyes and coral lip gloss on the (extremely few) female characters. — Trystan
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
On the one hand, I enjoyed this Edwardian-set mystery — a bunch of Australian schoolgirls go missing under mysterious circumstances — because who doesn’t like a creepy/dreamy mystery? On the other hand, note 1975 as the production year, because this is like an extended homage to blonde Breck girls. If you like arty and dreamy, go for it — if that drives you crazy, stay away. The soundtrack was done by none other than ZAMFIR MASTER OF THE PAN FLUTE (a reference lost on you young ‘uns). My main question is, what the fuck was up with the school headmistress’s hair? — Kendra
Young Hyacinth (2016)
Perhaps if you are a big fan of the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, you’ll enjoy this one-off prequel that shows Hyacinth as a working-class girl in the 1950s — she is learning about the upper crust by being a maid in one of their houses while putting up with her embarrassing family. On the other hand, my friend who is a Keeping Up fan said there wasn’t enough to tie this special with the original series. I was mildly entertained, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it, either way. — Kendra
Do you love one of these movies or TV shows? What other stuff should we remove from our queue? Have you searched our site recently to see if we’ve already reviewed your faves?
Blandings was amusing, but the costumes were meh i felt. I read the novels yoinks ago and seemed to remember more family members that were as eccentric as the Earl with his dear, Empress of Blandings, the huge sow. I missed them.
Wish they would make a new Jeeves series.
But the Stephen Fry / Hugh Laurie Jeeves & Wooster is so perfect!!!
Who says that I don’t agree. Just want more with Fry and Laurie. I believe that Wooster stories exist from the late 1930s which could account for the age difference.
Have you checked out My Mother and Other Strangers? Another WWII show, this time set in Ireland with an American Air Force base near by.
There’s also Tutankhamun – this discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
Haven’t gotten access to either of those yet, will keep an eye out.
I’ve only seen the new Anne of Green Gables, and if I ever watch it again it will be a hate/laugh watch. They needed to guide the girl who played Anne a lot more; maybe she could have done it but her performance was all presentation & external, when Anne’s whole thing is her rich internal, imaginative life. Same issue with Matthew—I like Martin Sheen but I had a hard time buying him as a deeply quiet, shy person. I bought the 1980s tv ones from my childhood the next day. I don’t know how they are on the costumes, and I think they shifted the period a bit, but the acting and storytelling are beautiful and worth watching (skip the 2000s sequel and prequel).
Agreed. Anne was so obvious, & I love Martin Sheen, but he wasn’t believable.
If you can get to it, the 1980s tv adaptations were really great. I’ve re-watched them as an adult and they still hold up. I’m not sure how accurate the costumes are, because I’ve always been a little confused both in the tv series and the books about exactly what time period it was supposed to be. The whole thing about teen Anne really wanting a dress with “puffed sleeves” was a big deal in the books and in the 1980s adaptation, so it was supposedly the latest fashion.
The biggest problem I had with the new PBS adaptation was that they took a story about a strong, independent young girl making her way in the world as well as the multi-faceted levels of female friendship and made it into a show mostly from the perspective Martin Sheen’s character. Heck, I think he even got top billing. Not cool PBS, not cool.
I haven’t seen any of the new ones but I’m pretty sure I don’t need to in order to know the 1980s ones are still the best. Megan Followes simply, absolutely embodies Anne (though I prefer to think the “Continuing Story” simply never happened). Colleen Dewhurst’s portrayal of Marilla was sublime and the portrayals of Matthew, Gilbert, Diana (and everyone, really) were so spot on. The costumes are beautifully done and still very believable to this day (there are some detectable 80s details but they’re mostly pretty inoffensive). The dating is a bit tricky as the whole puffed sleeves thing would indicate c. mid-1890s and Anne and Gilbert don’t marry for, like, 10 years but have 2 sons who fight in WWI so L.M. Montgomery, herself, may have been fudging the dates somewhat out of nostalgia. The 80s versions seem to place the story from mid-1890s to early 1900s over the course of both series, which may be a little late but not by much.
As a Canadian I also greatly appreciate that the 80s versions were domestic productions and so thoroughly Canadian in nature. These books were L.M.M.’s love letters to P.E.I. and the locale is as much a character as the people – this came through quite strongly in the 80s versions, was there any of that in this new one?
I adore Blandings!! My mom and I watched both seasons together and had the most wonderful time. I got her a collection of the stories for her birthday last year which have been very enjoyable. It is, of course, very silly, but in the best Wodehouseian manner. The costumes are mostly pretty meh but I thought there were a few fun looks. I think you just can’t go wrong with Timothy Spall and Jennifer Saunders. Plus now I can never take Jack Farthing seriously as a villain again. I really hope they make another season!
I love British-type silliness! I think I’m going to have to read these!
I need to go and rewatch Picnic at Hanging Rock. Never did see the ending. I like the Gunny Sac inspired look.
It’s SO 70s!
Really liked Home Fires because it showed how WWI affected the “common folk”. I can find a .lot of the types of clothing worn in the series at my local Big Flea.
I still love Picnic at Hanging Rock, but haven’t seen it in years, so it’s time for a rewatch. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to the costumes.
I wanted to like Home Fires for that reason, but I just couldn’t stay interested for more than two episodes. None of the characters grabbed me — they didn’t seem fresh or have anything unique going for them. YMMV :)
I Googled Medicis: Masters of Florence and saw pictures of the costumes. The women’s besides being completely inaccurate are incredibly ugly. The actresses don’t look 15th Century Renaissance Florentine. Looking at the art the city produced Btw 1434-1492, there’s not a blonde or redhead among the rather slutty looking and ugly actresses portraying Medici women.
Also Lorenzo Il Magnifico was considered NOT handsome.
At least the Tudors had Natalie Dormer and Reign although not period has attractive clothes.
Yeah, it’s not much to look at! The story isn’t terrible, but ugh, the women’s costumes — blargh.
I briefly considered suggesting this series for you guys to review, just because this is a period and place not often done, but the costumes were just so meh (at best) or plain ugly I didn’t bother.
sorry but I have to strongly disagree. You haven’t googled enough because there two important redhead characters in the series and I don’t think you can call those actresses “slutty” and “ugly” after looking at only 2 images. Before criticize watch the show so next time you can critize better and with more accuracy.
Heck if my headmistress had hair like that, I’d disappear too!
I absolutely adore the Anne miniseries starring Megan Follows. After the travesty that was the third movie, I got really wary of any Anne productions.
I may give it a watch just for Martin Sheen. Pretty sure my love for Richard Farnsworth in the role is safe, though.
If you loved Richard Farnsworth’s understated, heart-achingly quiet and nuanced performance, don’t watch the new one. Really. You’ll be yelling at the screen. Not that Martin Sheen’s performance is bad, necessarily, but someone made the decision to give him lines, a lot of lines. Like, “we have to give a big star like Martin Sheen more to do” level of lines.
Ditto. I also adore the Anne miniseries with Megan Follows. I’ve seen it countless times and it still makes me cry.
I’m hesitant about this new Anne production, but I’ll probably watch it at some point. Now at least I am forewarned.
Re: The Courage to Love. There’s another movie called Feast of All Saints that’s based on an Ann Rice novel that also deals with plaçage. I haven’t watched the whole thing but there are a bunch of clips on Youtube and I enjoyed what I saw. The costumes looked pretty good although they’re wearing huge hoops in the parts set in what I believe is supposed to be the 1840’s. Oh well.
THERE IS A MOVIE BASED ON THAT BOOK??!?!?!!! OMG I LOVE THAT BOOK!!!! NEED TO FIND IT ASAP, THANK YOU!!!!
A co-worker of mine was the one who sold the idea of the 2000 TV movie, “The Courage to Love”. In fact, I was with her when she sold the rights to a local production company, with offices located in Beverly Hills.
Wow, that’s amazing! Was it originally supposed to be a religious story? I mean, yeah, the historical character founded a convent, & I think the movie ran on the Hallmark Channel.
I also enjoyed the Courage to Love. I believe that the convent’s founder is in the long line towards sainthood.
I knew about Feast of All Saints. It’s one my favourite Anne Rice novels. I saw movie years ago on TV. Perhaps Hulu or YouTube has it.
Just thought you should know that “The Courage to Love” was set in the 1830s, not the 1850s. :)
By the way, have you seen “The Feast of All Saints” yet? I own the DVD. If you purchase it, I assure you it will be worth your viewing pleasure.
The costumes were wrong for the 1830s tho! The gowns were just generically Civil War. I mentioned that the story should be set earlier; it doesn’t *look* like it was tho.
Still haven’t bought Feast of All Saints yet — I can’t decide if I want to shell out $ on something I know will be kinda scholcky. I really wish I could find it streaming, dangit.
Good news (kinda),
Someone uploaded Feast of All Saints, but there is a foreign voiceover, however, you can still make out the actors’ voices, but of course it would be better if we could hear everything in English. Both parts 1 & 2 are available for your viewing pleasure if you want to see them. :)
I appreciate these kinds of posts
very much, because, please don’t slap me (you could marry me or shag me, though) I swear to Gawd, I haven’t really watched anything “new” for about 5 years now. Not any series at all, seriously. I just have had it in my head that everything other than TCM or the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, which I have watched about 20 times, is utter trash and a waste of my time. The only exceptions were the first 3 seasons of Downton Abbey, which I quite liked, but lost interest by season 4, and a bit of The Tudors, which pissed me off with its historical inaccuracy to the point that I had to leave it alone. And sheesh, you read my mind about Braveheart!
Perhaps I was wrong? Is there more to historical drama life out there? You are making me think it is time to pull my head out of the sand and watch something…What is Poldark? What is Outlander? Yeah, yeah, i am gonna look myself because i have obviously been living under a cinematic rock.
So, I am looking around, finally, for something to watch in the way of a series. At least this shows me what to avoid, lol!
Blandings wasn’t funny at all and while Timothy Spall was decent as Lord Emsworth, Jennifer Saunders was miscast as Lady Constance and David Walliams was unfunny.
As for Home Fires, some of the acting over all was decent but the story lines were unoriginal and cliched. Some were also anachronistic and not true to the time it was set.
Ok, I thought I was the only person who felt the remake of Anne of Green Gables was insipid. Matthew was too blustery and The lady who played Marilla Cuthburt was weak tea compared to the austere dignity of Colleen Dwehurst.
I must say though you did not give it the best reviews, Young Hyacinth looks like it could be fun.
Holy..there is a “Keeping up Apperances” prequel?! I don’t know if I could watch it because I loved the original and of course all of the cast , but now I am very curious . Great show , along with “Are you being served?” Course I live in the middle of the country in New York and my British sitcom references don’t click with anybody else here but so what. Thanks for the heads up !
Oh, dear. There’s just so much to say! Like everyone else who has commented I love the 1980s version of Anne of Green Gables. Megan Follows is MY Anne. I eschewed any other film adaptations–including the Martin Sheen version–until Netflix’s Anne with an E. That one was so terrible that I couldn’t watch more than two episodes. The Courage to Love. Wow. I watched that years ago–like when it originally aired–and I remember liking it. Mainly I was impressed and excited that Creole culture was being portrayed on TV. I don’t remember it being so religious, but I watched it a long time ago. The religious angle is appropriate though as Henriette Delille is on track to be canonized as a Catholic saint, and for several years now in every church in New Orleans, she is included in a prayer that we say every Sunday. I feel the need to watch it again. I LOVED Home Fires, and I wanted it to go on and on on. If you ever feel so inclined, try to give it another chance. I thought it was perfectly cast and definitely of a piece with similarly-themed productions like Land Girls, Island at War, and My Mother and Other Animals. Medici: Masters of Florence suffered the opposite fate: It was totally miscast. The actors were not bad, they just were not right for their parts. Richard Madden did a good job acting-wise, but he was about 10-15 years too young to play that role; the actor who played his son looked more like his little brother. Even though Dustin Hoffman is a great an actor, he does not convince as an Italian Renaissance aristocrat. The actor standing next to Richard Madden in the picture above, is Italian and was age-appropriate for the main role, but instead he was relegated to the role of bodyguard/fixer. It was a substantial role, but still. And many other actors just looked too contemporary–I’m not talking about their costumes but their whole look and vibe. That was a real pity, but the Renaissance is a fascinating time period and the intrigues of the Medici family deserved better treatment.