The Frock Flicks team spends a lot of time working through our backlogs on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, BritBox, Acorn, and broadcast cable to watch historical costume movies and TV shows. We’ll even go out to a theater to see a movie some days. Alas, not every flick set in the past is worth our time (though check our our archives of reviews by using the search box!).
We gotta tell ya: There are a lot of crappy historical costume movies and TV shows out there! Not everything’s bad enough for Snark Week — some are 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’s a continuing 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!
Crooked House (2017)
A 1949-set, one-off Agatha Christie TV movie in the vein of Witness for the Prosecution and And Then There Were None. It’s fine – good performances from Christina Hendricks as the sweetly ditzy American showgirl turned widow, Glenn Close as the mole-shooting wacky aunt, and Gillian Anderson as the hand-staple-forehead theater actress. And lead Max Irons is totally growing on me, hotness-wise. But it lacks the atmosphere and design fabulosity of Then There Were None, and while everyone could have been the culprit, I didn’t totally care. Worth a watch! Just don’t expect your socks to be blown off. — Kendra
The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-1977)
So many of you recommended this BBC series, and I do love the ’70s classics, so I dove in. But two long, tedious episodes about plucky Edwardian cook Louisa making her way up in a London manor house and impressing the Prince of Wales, and I still didn’t care. The costumes are all servant-wear, so many caps and aprons (though at least they’re wearing corsets ‘n hairpins ‘n stuff, it’s all proper kit). Apparently, it’s not until episode five that her real love interest appears, and folks, I just don’t have enough time for that. I’ve got a life and a blog to run! — Trystan
From Time to Time (2009)
A very twee story about a kid in 1940s England who finds he can travel back into his own family’s history while staying in his grandmother’s rambling old mansion. Grandmom is played by Maggie Smith, and his ancestors include Hugh Bonneville and Carice van Houten (Melisandre from Game of Thrones), so good actors. But it’s a very lightweight and predictable tale. — Trystan
I was worried about watching this film, because the previews made it seem like it was way too focused on the White Man’s Experience, and because boringly-dressed Westerns aren’t usually my thing. Well, I was right that the Native American characters were way too cartoon-ish and un-fleshed out, and the 1892 frontier-wear wasn’t terribly exciting, but it’s a well-made and well-acted movie, so there’s that. The story focuses on a military guy (Christian Bale) who has been fighting Indians most of his life; he has to escort a native chief (Wes Studi, who you know from The Last of the Mohicans and many other films) who is being released from prison after a number of years. The movie explores the psychology of war and the native/white conflict, which is interesting, but yeah, they totally forgot to actually include the native perspective on things. Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice & Pigs) is compelling as a woman who’s family is murdered by Native Americans and who joins the expedition, and has her own emotional journey. But I just don’t get how, in this day and age, you can forget to include non-white perspectives. — Kendra
The Little Hours (2017)
This is a REALLY FUCKING FUNNY MOVIE. Go watch it and laugh your ass off! It’s historical and obscene, two things we love here in Frock Flicks land. However, there is basically no costume content. The characters are all medieval nuns wearing habits that seem fine for 14th-century Italy, but it’s all the same outfit on every actress. — Trystan
I do think I would have loved this more if I’d seen this in the theater with my other Frock Flicks bitches, and with cocktails, but, agreed! — Kendra
This is a very stupid movie. No idea why I watched, I was probably drunk, it was on cable, and I thought that Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington running around bare-legged would be entertaining. Newp. Let this be a warning to you all! — Trystan
The Terror (2018)
The story of the Franklin expedition, a late 1840s attempt to find the Northwest Passage through the Canadian arctic — with bonus supernatural/scary critter. Lots o’ hotties — Ciarian Hinds, Tobias Menzies — and episode one started off strong (I was worried it would be super boy-centric, but I was definitely entertained). There are some quick flashbacks to England with a few female characters (including Greta Sccachi as Lady Jane Franklin), but they’re just blips. What I’m most interested in is apparently there will be some serious attempts to portray Inuit characters realistically … fingers crossed! — Kendra
Woman in Gold (2015)
The modern-day, based-on-a-true story of a Jewish-American woman (Helen Mirren) who fled the Nazis when they took over Vienna. Her family was wealthy, and owned a number of important and expensive paintings by Gustav Klimt, many of which featured her aunt. The film focuses on her legal fight to regain ownership of her family’s paintings, but there are flashbacks to her childhood in the 1910s and marriage/escape in the 1940s. It does hit the Conventional Biopic/Fighting the System notes, and it’s definitely high quality … just not enough historical costume content to review! — Kendra
Do you love one of these historical costume movies or TV shows? What else should we remove from our queue? Have you searched our site recently to see if we’ve already reviewed your faves?
The Little Hours is not just obscene, hilarious and historical, the plot is heavily drawn from Boccaccio.
And the director is a Medieval Lit PhD. I loved the film — apparently most of the dialogue was improvised by the actors.
I’m glad that I ended up watching it at home. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, but I think I’d rather not have seen it with other people around, especially the stupid ones who bring kids to a (very) R movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the music. There were a number of complex choral pieces – monastic chant isn’t that exciting. I also appreciated that plot went somewhat into the consequences of dowries and “donations” to the church. Monastic history is my jive. The donkey may be the smartest character.
The Terror is fantastic. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on but I get the impression from people who have that its portrayal of the Inuit characters is not as good as the series’, which is sensitively and brilliantly written. The details are wonderful too – they worked very closely with an archaeologist called Matthew Betts to make sure they got everything right, down to eyeglasses, tins and buttons that were found by explorers searching for the expedition. You can read about their collaboration on the project here:
I can understand where you’re coming from regarding Women in Gold. But the movie, for me, was an accurate portrayal of what Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann, went through to recover property stole from her family by the Nazis, the complicity if the Austrian people in welcoming Hitler in in 1937 (not everyone was a Baron von Trapp), how the Belvedere Museum displayed Adele Bloch-Bauer I on their walls without identifying the sitter bc she was Jewish…
Oh, come ON, Pompeii is so hideously bad that it’s Perfect Of Its Kind! If you take a slug of your favorite hootch each time there’s a looong meaningfulllll pan over Vesuvius, you’ll be flat on the floor 20 minutes in. It is possibly the silliest movie ever made that wasn’t actually done by the “Carry On” crowd.
Hahahaha – maybe I didn’t drink enough?
Please review the new Poldark series! now that the dresses are decidedly getting more regent/empire line i’d love to know how accurate they are. and the hair!
We’ve reviewed each season after it airs in the U.S. — search the site!
I’m assuming that by “series” they literally mean the most recent season (series in the Brit sense) currently airing in the U.K. In which case I think it airs in October here.
Yes, if it’s currently airing in the U.K., it won’t air in the U.S. for several months, & we probably won’t review it for a while after that.
I stumbled across Amazon Prime’s costume shows recently. “To Walk Invisible” is a two-episode series about the Bronte siblings. It leans so hard into drama it’s almost comical.
When I saw Prime also had the movie “Leonie,” I was thrilled. It’s a biopic about Leonie Gilmour, mother of the artist Isamu Noguchi. Her story is awesome and isn’t told enough.* I don’t remember what the costumes were like, and the film suffers towards the end as the director was forced to remove 30 minutes of the movie, a process she likened to cutting her flesh. Still highly recommended, though not for the outfits.
*White woman who openly raises her mixed race child from 1904 onward, never passing him off as a nephew or herself as a widow. She moves from the US to Japan despite not knowing the language and that country also looking down on unmarried women with illegitimate children.
I liked To Walk Invisible overall (minor quibbles about biographical accuracy, as always) & reviewed it when it first aired on PBS (search the site!).
Leonie has been on my watch list for a while.
The Terror was excellent in their historical accuracy. The acting was superb all around. The one thing I quibbled with was it was one episode (aka one hour) too long. I did not need to see the endless trudging to ‘get’ the point that the expedition was going to reach a tragic end. I mean, it’s sort of in the set up of the show and the show’s description, “The doomed Franklin Expedition.” The first episode was two hours, the rest were one, so when we got to the 1:20 long episode # 9, I thought, this is it. Then at the end of the episode, I knew that we were not dead yet (to pun on Monty Python).
I’m also wondering since I read your rant on the series, how you feel about the Alienist garnering an Emmy nod for Best Limited Series? I for one was miffed because it was cliched and I agreed with your rant on it a few months back. I’m also more than miffed that such a terrible disgrace of a Limited Series would win a nod when Quality such as the Terror and (not period but I LOVE IT SO) Twin Peaks: the Return would not get the Best Limited Series nod!
The Emmy nominations (also Oscars) is as much about which studio runs the best campaigns as about actual quality. Also, who in the voting academy actually watches the show. I’m mostly surprised TNT managed to work up that much of an effort!
What makes “From Time to Time” so grrr-inducing is that it is based on a SMASHING series of kid books by L.M. Boston, the “Green Knowe” series, and the movie was so awful, in spite of great source material, and a wonderful cast. I blame Julian Fellowes.
I did love The Duchess of Duke Street back in the day — I actually watched it as a kid IN REAL TIME when it aired on PBS. (My mom would let me stay up late once a week just so we could watch it together as this was before the advent of VHS. Much to the chagrin of my father). I do own the DVD reissue but haven’t watched it and now I’m afraid it won’t hold up to my fond childhood memories. Alas!
The Woman in Gold was pretty interesting, having read the book, though I thought Ryan Reynolds was oddly cast. If you ever get to NYC I highly recommend going to the Neue Gallerie to see the original painting — it’s a small gallery and fairly expensive, but it’s really worth seeing. It is just stunning in real life.
Try the British drama series Lilies (2007)! Just after WWI, working class Liverpool, three sisters.
Woman in Gold is a great movie, and when Helen Mirren isn’t quietly devouring the entire movie, theer are blips of her character as a young woman and her husband as they escape Nazi Vienna and she is played by Tatiana Maslany (yes!) and the scorchingly hot Max Irons, yes, yes, oh god yes)
From Time to Time sounds like a bad knock-off of a rather sweet children’s book called A Traveller in Time, first published in the 1930s. It’s about a little girl who goes to stay with family in the country, and learns that Mary Queen of Scotts was once held prisoner in the nearby ruins. She travels back in time, tries to get involved in a plot to help Mary escape, but history can’t be changed, etc. etc.
I’m REALLY excited to watch The Terror.
Sarah, I enjoyed Time to Time, although it was a little tepid. I think it was actually from the wonderful Green Knowe books by Lucy M. Boston. I thank you for reminding me about A Traveller in Time. I loved that book as a child.
Crooked House was on my must watch list before I read this post. Now it’s been bumped up! The Terror looks boring as all get out–even though I love the actors involved. Pompeii looked like it would be bad, perhaps so bad it’s good, but I still wasn’t enticed enough to watch it. I saw From Time to Time years ago and I enjoyed it in a light fare sort of way. I definitely think it’s a mood. Woman in Gold was good. I agree with the person who said that Ryan Reynolds was an odd choice, but ultimately he pulled it off. I thought that Helen Mirren–who is a brilliant actress–was too young for that role. I know she was the “big name” of the movie, but I thought that an actress who was actually in her 70s or 80s would have been more convincing in the part. It made me think how radical it was for James Cameron to cast an elderly woman to play Rose in Titanic rather than cast a woman in late middle age and try to make her seem elderly.