Here at Frock Flicks HQ we have access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and some, ehem, other sources to watch historical costume movies and TV shows. Hey, we could even watch movies on ye olde DVDs sometimes! So we spend a lot of time in front of a screen, attempting to watch our endless queue. 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 mediocre 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 distinctly average. These are boring movies, the dull shows, the ones with meh 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, this is an occasional series with our 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!
Carnival Row (2019-)
A fantasy-Victorian series made by Amazon, so not strictly historical, but folks requested a review and I tried to watch it. But the story just didn’t grab me, and the visuals were rather pedestrian; I was hoping for a more distinct style, something really eye-catching. One neat costume bit was how Cara Delevingne’s fairy character wears a corset to tie down her wings when she works as a maid among the mundane folk. — Trystan
Dead Still (2020-)
Not a bad little show about an 1880s photographer for dead people memorials, who gets dragged into solving murder mysteries. The characters are all stock figures — crotchety old guy, his perky rebellious niece, young assistant moving up in the world — but they’re well performed. Costumes are standard-issue though. Available on Acorn TV exclusively. — Trystan
Not as bad as I feared from the trailer, but not that great either and not worth a full blog post. The costumes are mostly historical off-the-rack (I suspect rentals), but the plot and language are totally modern. And I do mean “totally,” as in, the characters speak like adults think teenagers speak, duuuude! It’s silly and inconsistent, not even camp enough to be hilarious. — Trystan
Green Book (2018)
Was it an enjoyable movie — well written/acted/directed? Sure! Was it an interesting story — classical/jazz pianist Don Shirley, who is driven by Italian American Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga while on tour through the South, and the development of their friendship? Sure! Did it feel like a contemporary story? Meh? There are definite white-savior themes here, and while I think this is a story worth telling, it felt like I was in 1995 in terms of how much this challenged the mainstream, and I’d rather Hollywood put its money behind something more thought-provoking in terms of racism and civil rights. The costumes were just fine, nothing outstanding or terrible to report. — Kendra
I wanted to like this movie. It’s artsy and about a real person, a woman at the turn of the last century, who gets pregnant by a Japanese man, is rejected by/rejects him, goes to Japan anyway, and raises her kids there alone. Emily Mortimer is fascinating to watch. But something about it started to grate on me, and I think it was that her character made a lot of actions and choices in reaction to men and I couldn’t tell what her own motivations were. Plus, the costumes are rather meh average. — Trystan
Fictionalization of Richard and Mildred Loving’s story, an interracial marriage that lead to the historic U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 decision that struck down miscegenation laws. Beautifully told story and Ruth Negga (as Mildred) was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Standard-issue 1950s costumes though. — Trystan
I’m a terrible person, I thought this was such an important story and yet suuuuch a slow movie. I did try to watch it on a plane, maybe that explains it? — Kendra
The Pale Horse (2020)
Yet another Agatha Christie adaptation, this one set in the 1950s. Rufus Sewell is STILL HOT as a widower, and we learn about the death of his wife through flashbacks, as things get more and more suspicious. There’s been a number of these adaptations lately, and I’d say that this was one of the more successful in terms of being suspenseful and engaging. — Kendra
Up the Women (2013)
This is a really funny satirical series, currently available on BritBox. Set in the 1900s, one member of a village sewing circle decides to become a suffragette and wants to pull the rest of the ladies along with her. Hijinx ensue! The costumes and even the hairstyles are accurate, though not exciting. But for sewists, there are some good sewing jokes tucked in here and there. — Trystan
World on Fire (2019-)
This umpteen-billion-part BBC/Masterpiece series can be summed up as “World War II soap opera.” It seemed to go on forever (and I hear there will be another season, ugh), and I only faintly cared about a quarter of the 50 dozen storylines that zigged and zagged between Berlin and Britain and Warsaw and Paris and wherever else they were. Criminal waste of Sean Bean too. — Trystan
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
I loved the hell out of this movie as a pre-teen, and recently revisited it for something comforting to watch during lockdown. I’m pleased to say it holds up as pleasant entertainment with charming young actors (Nicholas Rowe is still a cutie!), an engaging story, clever dialog, and passably decent mid-Victorian costuming. It’s a Steven Spielberg production, so some money was spent, and it still shows. — Trystan
What did you think 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?
Green Book was a massive disappointment.Such brilliant direction,strong performances,gripping script weighed down by its problematic themes.
Carnival Row is a lot of fun though.Some costumes are amazeballs,and I wonder if the designers got those wings and prosthetics custom made.The cinematography,however,made everything too gritty and boring.
I made it about 30 minutes before I shut it off. Just was not engaging.
Add the reboot of “Partners In Crime” to the “Don’t Bother”list. They’ve moved it to the 50’s and they have confused Agatha Christie with John LeCarre. Costuming is Right, But Who Cares. Tommy is a bit thick and Tuppence is idiotically reckless, but they somehow end up working for MI-5.
Mixing up Christie and Carre? Why do I have a feeling that the show runners wanted something “gritty”? I don’t mind gritty in and of itself, but I’m on the road to hating it since the approach to anything out of copyright and has the gall to be on the whole cheery has to be obliterated by it. My favorite ax to grind on this is Anne with an E. Anne Shirley is not gritty. So many things going for it, but I couldn’t take it beyond the first couple episodes.
Nzie, THIS. If filmmakers want to make something gritty, why not make gritty original content–even if that content is “inspired” by an existent work. This trend has made gritty a four-letter word in my book. Anne with an E was particularly egregious in this way. As you said, Anne Shirley is not gritty.
The whole POINT of Anne Shirley is that she’s not gritty. She makes a conscious choice to not be! There’s a moment in one of the later books when one of her children says “you don’t know what hardship is!” and Anne basically says “OH YEAH LET ME SAY A THING” (but it’s L.M.Montgomery, so it’s something like “in a few curt sentences Anne sketched the lines of her early life”. It was traumatic! But she decided to not make that be the whole of her life! (That’s easier in fiction than in real life, when you can’t always choose, BUT STILL). So yes: I agree.
Yessss. I tried to watch Anne with an E when it first came out because I’d heard so many good things about it but I only barely made it through the first episode. There is value in tackling a serious topic like being an orphan with cheer and good humor. I always found the books uplifting, and the show was the absolute opposite. I tried again this past year because I figured I was in quarantine and I’d heard really good things about the actor who played Gilbert but their attempts to address 21st century issues through Anne of Green Gables felt so hamfisted and clumsy I couldn’t stand it. They might as well have just created an original story at that point.
I watched the series and it bored me spitless. Tommy is one of the dumbest characters on TV. Nice costumes, but turn off the sound. It works better that way.
Got through the first ep and didn’t care enough about it to watch anymore. Shame since I loved the 1980s Partners in Crime with Francesca Annes and James Warwick.
It’s impossible not to love Francesca Annes in anything 😁
I was just thinking about Up The Women the other day, and remembering that that was a pretty good series! I love Jessica Hynes.
On this list I’ve only seen a few episodes of Up the Women. It seemed like one of those shows that only Brits would think is funny, and I am not British. Green Book, Leonie, and Loving have been on my To Watch list for a while, and now so is Pale Horse. How is Rufus Sewell getting hotter and hotter? Sean Bean looks like a total snack in that photo from World on Fire. I’ve been on the fence about that show, hearing both good and bad. If I drink enough wine, I might watch Carnival Row and Dickinson.
Aww. I love Young Sherlock Holmes. It caused me to become a Nicholas Rowe, so whenever he turns up a costume drama (often by towering over everyone else) I’m delighted. But they should give him more parts. ;)
The Pale Horse was nothing like the book and one of those WTF? things for me.
Carnival Rowe, for having all the bloodshed, sex, and bad language, was a snore-bore.
Rufus Sewell is still dishy but the filmmakers totally changed the story of The Pale House which absolutely infuriated me. I watched in disbelief and my jaw dropped at the end, it is NOTHING like the original book which is excellent. WTF. The costumes are great and Rufus is pretty but that’s about it.
Green Book was an absolute wasted opportunity and white saviorism at it’s most white. Co-written by the driver’s son with no input from Mr Shirley’s family. If anyone wants a piece of real history on The Green Book, The New York Public Library has digitized a large number of the guides which everyone is permitted to read for absolutely free… https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-green-book#/?tab=about
“I thought this was such an important story and yet suuuuch a slow movie. I did try to watch it on a plane, maybe that explains it?” Kendra, that’s it. “Loving” is slow and deliberate and moving–not a film to watch in an airplane. It needs to be viewed on a big screen. (I was fortunate enough to see “Loving” in a real movie theatre.) I love Ruth Negga. She is so ’30s in looks and style. She could play Luise Rainer.
I’m biracial, my mother is black, my father was white so Loving should have been right up my alley.
I was booooored to tears and I didn’t like how they portrayed Richard Loving. I understand he must have been rather taciturn in real life and that’s why they made the choices they did but they way they handled that made him seem rather closed off, instead of in love with his wife.
He reads more like an abusive lifetime movie husband, like we’re going to come back from commercial break and find him throwing a fit because dinner is late.
Carnival row: Orlando Bloom is dull.I admired the dresses worn by the blondie (Tamzin Merchant) like this red one on the picture. She used to wear mostly
pastel ones and looks like a porcelain doll. Imogen Spurnrose.
I zzzz-ed right through World on Fire! It did have lovely 1940s costumes though! But good costumes can’t save a dull show!