With endless Netflix, Amazon Prime, broadcast TV (particularly Turner Movie Classics), upcoming movies in the theaters, and even some, ehem, other sources to watch historical costume movies and TV shows, the Frock Flicks editorial staff has quite a backlog. Alas, not every flick set in the past is worth our time (though we’ve already reviewed plenty — use the search box or menus to view the archives!).
After clocking all these movie-watching hours, we can tell you: There are a lot of crappy historical costume movies and TV shows out there! It’s not just Snark Week goods either. Some stuff is mere 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, 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!
Beau Brummell (1954)
I tried, I really did, to even just get through this film in the name of my 18th-Century Quest. I mean, Beau Brummell! Elizabeth Taylor! Shiny wigs! Satin! But it was just so unrelentingly boring, that I gave up halfway through. I’ve been now meaning to finish it for at least 6 months, but clearly that’s not going to happen. All I really remember is standard mid-century costumes, shiny white wigs, and desperately trying to keep my eyes open. Sorry! — Kendra
Casanova’s Big Night (1954)
Bob Hope is pretty darn funny as a tailor who gets mistaken for Casanova, but otherwise the film is nice-but-not-revolutionary mid-20th-century period comedy. Joan Fontaine’s costumes are very princess-seam-y, the wigs are very plasticky, and Vincent Price is (in my opinion) weirdly cast as the real Casanova. There is one genius scene where Hope has to dress up as a woman at a fancy ball, and it doesn’t go well, to great comic effect. — Kendra
Dracula Untold (2014)
Shitty medieval backstory for Vlad the Impaler. It’s like someone took the kind-of-cool opening five minutes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and made an entire movie of that, changing Elisabeta’s name to Mirena (like the IUD) and adding some demon spawn. Stupid, but not even stupid enough to snark. — Trystan
Lark Rise to Candleford (2008-2011)
My mom recommended this to me, and we’re usually on the same page re: historical fiction. While this has some quite good Victorian costuming, the storylines can be rather twee and predictable. It’s not the worst thing in the world at all, but it doesn’t rock my socks either. — Trystan
The Last Kingdom (2015-)
Dirty boys running around 9th-century England killing each other or something. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. (Besides, isn’t Vikings covering this period already?) — Trystan
Man of La Mancha (1972)
I adore Peter O’Toole. I love musicals. I like the story of Don Quixote. I hated this film adaption and couldn’t make it past the halfway mark. Also, negligible costume interest. — Trystan
Ripper Street (2012- )
Another of your faves, and I got through more eps of this one based on the actors (Bronn from Game of Thrones is always a hoot!). But the female characters are super-cliches (hookers, dull wife, and they’re all just props for the fellas), plus they’re wearing Victorian steampunk bullshit. No can do, folks. — Trystan
Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
I only have myself to blame for this one. See, I was born in Florida, and I’m interested in how the overuse of giant feathers and stuffed birds in the 1900s gave rise to conservation efforts. But this movie is not a great history lesson and has no fabulous historical hats. It’s just crap. — Trystan
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?
I loved Ripper Street, but I will admit the male costumes were so much better than the female ones.
But if you want to talk bad historical costumes, video games are the go-to. I love historical games (Red Dead, Assassin’s Creed), but the costumes are terribly inaccurate.
Elise’s ballgown from AC Unity horrifies me to no end….
I loved Lark Rise! Such fine actors that you see all over Brit TV. And the wardrobe is really good, I think. The hats were to die for! The plots didn’t bother me really, I enjoyed the village/town contrast-and-compare.
There were some pretty hats!
Last Kingdom gets so much better a few episodes in! I almost gave up on it after the first couple of episodes, but persevered because my husband was enjoying it. By the end of the season we were definitely ready for season 2.
There’s so many historical costume TV shows & movies being made these days — not to mention all the classics of yesteryear — that if something doesn’t show promise in the first hour, I’m cutting my losses & moving on.
Fair enough. I’m slowly learning to embrace that idea as well. Latest show on the chopping block was The Expanse (not historical). I just need to get better about doing it with books as well!
Lark Rise is sweet. Dorcas has THE BEST outfits. It is a little sugary, but I don’t mind a bit of sap once in awhile. :)
Last Kingdom… I may give it another go at some point. First episode didn’t hook me.
Brigadoon . The musical with Gene Kelly & Cyd Charise. One of my favs. Not great costumes if I recall correctly.
Ah yes, Brigadoon! I can never decide if I love it or want to snark it — it’s so very plaid!
I simply cannot take the costumes in Brigadoon seriously, and the whole thing was miscast, except for Pamela Britton—and then they clean up the lyrics to “My Mother’s Wedding Day.” And it’s sad, because I love the musical in its stage form..
Dracula Untold was the worst. Vald Tepes, Prince of Wallachia is the HERO?! Mehmed is Dominic Cooper in weird, pseudo brown-face?! They had a legit Nosferatu in a cave for about two minutes, but they ruined it. Luke Evans is pretty, but he wasn’t enough to save that endless facepalm of a movie.
I liked The Last Kingdom. It’s based on a series of decent historicals and I always am interested in more ancient history. Vikings takes place a little before this series’ time, since Alfred the Great was already a ruler in it. In Vikings, Alfred was just a baby, the son of Athelstan and Judith (not married, though).
I tried to watch The Last Kingdom last night, but you guys were right. It’s a rapetastic male power fantasy with MANLY MEN WHO ARE WARRIORS GRRRRR that makes GAME OF THRONES look feminist and nuanced. NOPE. I’m out.
I know Marvel movies aren’t your bag, but I came across this interesting Tumblr post ( https://historicallyaccuratesteve.tumblr.com/post/100522609393/nehirose-lohelim-winterthirst-sabacc ) about how historically inaccurate costuming became a plot point in Captain America: the First Avenger.
Why why why have you not reviewed the,1997 BBC/A&E Ivanhoe miniseries? I keep hoping. Ciarán Hinds! And the costumes were much better than the other versions. They tried…
I pushed through the first season of Ripper Street but quit after the first episode of season 2 and don’t feel I missed anything.
There was one thing in The Last Kingdom I’d like to know more about, and not knowing the terminology I have no idea where to start googling. Queen Aelswith has a hairstyle my friends and I have come to refer to as a chinbraid, here in all its chinbraid-y glory (plus a possibly objectionable poncho/capelet… thing):
If anyone has the experience/knowledge to even point me in the right direction on the authenticity I’d appreciate it! It’s just such a silly hairstyle that I figured there had to be some reason to use it.
I thought the costuming for Ripper Street got better in the later seasons when they moved away from 1880s steampunk to full-on 1890s. It’s at least to see correct silhouettes for an underrepresented period.
Ok, so I’m totally in the minority here, but I really enjoyed Dracula Untold. Luke Evans was beautiful. Plus there was Charles Dance! Yes, the Dominic Cooper casting was weird, but still. I thought it was a solid entry into the Dracula canon, and I wanted more. I read one of the books in the series upon which The Last Kingdom was based and I enjoyed it. Still, the first episode of the TV series didn’t grab me, and I let that one go without any turmoil.
I just have to breathe through the costumes and buildings and weaponry in The Last Kingdom and enjoy the drama and Alexander Dreymon.