SNARK WEEK: Top 5 Frock Flick Actresses I Don’t Understand

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During last year’s Snark Week, Trystan wrote an excellent post about unlikely Frock Flicks actors — actors that just don’t seem to suit historical movies or TV series. As the person who posts images to social media, I come across some real head-scratchers, so I thought I’d add my own contribution to the list of unlikely Frock Flicks actors: specifically, five actresses I just don’t understand. Your mileage may vary!

 

Hilary Swank

So this is low-hanging fruit, I know, but I needed five! Hilary Swank is a very talented actress, but she reads as super modern to me (it probably doesn’t help that she can’t do an accent to save her life). Every time I see her in a period piece, I think “WHY CASTING DIRECTOR?? WHY???”

2001 The Affair of the Necklace

She looked gorgeous in The Affair of the Necklace (2001), but that’s more due to Milena Canonero‘s fabulous costumes.

2004 The Affair of the Necklace

Unfortunately Swank’s super modern style just made her acting seem super forced, which, combined with a cheesy script made for a clunker.

2004 Iron Jawed Angels

In Iron-Jawed Angels (2004), she was decent — it’s a more recent time period — although she was a WAY too prettified Alice Paul.

2006 The Black Dahlia

I haven’t seen The Black Dahlia (2006), but even in 1940s costume she seems like something from the 2000s rebooted 90210 (a more period hairstyle would probably help).

2009 Amelia

Casting her as Amelia (2009) Earhart was a much better call, given the 1920s setting and the fact that Earhart was such a tomboy.

2009 Amelia

Nonetheless, I wasn’t buying it.

2014 The Homesman

I haven’t seen The Homesman (2014), but I’m not hopeful.

 

Sienna Miller

Okay, so this one may be super random, because it really all comes down to her mannerisms and hair in Casanova (2005). It’s a combination of her having to play spunky with those curly bangs, maybe? Because she hasn’t bugged me in other films, but MAN did she bug me in this one!

2005 Casanova

They’re more wisps here, but still. I wish they’d given her an actual period hairstyle and some powder, it would have gone a long way!

2005 Casanova

I can’t remember why she’s in her stays here, but I don’t like it.

2005 Casanova

Lena Olin’s butter blonde wigs were atrocious, but let us not forget to notice Miller in the background.

2005 Casanova

I’m glad she’s pulled her hair back, but SOMEONE BUY THIS GIRL A HAIRBRUSH.

2008 The Edge of Love

It’s been too long since I saw 1940s-set The Edge of Love (2008), but I don’t recall disliking her.

2016 Live by Night

I haven’t seen Live by Night (2016), but I like the kewpie doll 1930s look here!

2016 The Lost City of Z

Haven’t seen The Lost City of Z (2016) either, but she suits this hat.

The Catcher Was A Spy 2018

She was fine in 1940s-set The Catcher Was A Spy (2018).

 

Raquel Welch

I haven’t seen ANY of these films, but every time I come across pictures I think “what the HELL WERE THEY THINKING?” Okay, so she was a massive sex symbol, and it was an era with no pretense of historical accuracy. Nonetheless!

1967 The Oldest Profession

She plays an Edwardian prostitute in The Oldest Profession (1967). PLEASE tell me she’s shocked a man is offering her cleavage-ed, winged eyeliner-ed, bouffant-ed self money for sex.

1968 Bandolero

I’m getting NOTHING period about western Bandolero (1968).

1972 Bluebeard

Clearly Bluebeard (1972) was going for wacky, but she’s a NUN with MASSIVE BOOBS and GO-GO BOOTS.

1977 Four Musketeers

The poly double-knit in The Four Musketeers (1977)!

1977 Prince and the Pauper

In 16th century-set The Prince and the Pauper (1977) her look can best be described as “sore thumb.”

 

Ursula Andress

Up there with Welch, Andress was another 1960s sex symbol who fell victim to the period’s love of casting slutty-seeming actresses in period films with super modern aesthetics.

1963 4 for Texas

With Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 4 for Texas (1963). This is the 1870s. Allegedly.

1966 The Blue Max

In World War I-set The Blue Max (1966), there’s NOTHING period about Andress’s look.

1969 The Southern Star

Undressing in public like a proper Edwardian lady would in The Southern Star (1969).

1969 The Southern Star

Okay, this looks much better … except for the eye makeup.

1971 Red Sun

Okay so Red Sun (1971) is a spaghetti western, but I’m glad they found a good use for that Victorian teasing comb.

1976 The Loves and Times of Scaramouche

As EMPRESS JOSEPHINE showing off HER ASS in The Loves and Times of Scaramouche (1976).

The Fifth Musketeer (1979)

Musketeering again in The Fifth Musketeer (1979).

Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1985)

As Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1985) resets the French revolution in Bagdad, it’s clearly not taking anything too seriously (Photo by Richard Melloul/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1985)

Nonetheless, Andress is playing MARIE-ANTOINETTE HERE.

Liberté, égalité, choucroute (1985)

I give up (Photo by ? Richard Melloul/Sygma/CORBIS/Sygma via Getty Images).

1986 Peter the Great

Playing “Athalie” in Peter the Great (1986).

1989 Man Against the Mob- The Chinatown Murders

I can sort of buy her in 1940s-set Man Against the Mob: The Chinatown Murders (1989).

 

Billie Whitelaw

And now, an actress who may confuse all of you: Billie Whitelaw. She was a much-lauded English actress who I’ve only seen in one film … but her look is SO 1970S, and I come across photos of her too often, and I don’t know why but she BUGS THE SHIT OUT OF ME. For no reason. Other than looking 1970s. Hey, there’s no fairness in Snark Week.

1957 The Adventures of Robin Hood

In a TV production The Adventures of Robin Hood (1957). Yeah, that hair is SO medieval.

1960 The Flesh and the Fiends

In 1820s Scotland … allegedly (The Flesh and the Fiends).

1964 The Lady of the Camellias

The Lady of the Camellias (1964). What is 1840s about those feathered bangs??

1968 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968). Alright, blame the bad video quality.

1970 Start the Revolution Without Me

As Marie-Antoinette in the comedy Start the Revolution Without Me (1970). Okay, so they weren’t going for accuracy, but nonetheless she was SO WRONG in this part!

1970 Start the Revolution Without Me

MARIE-ANTOINETTE PEOPLE.

1970 Start the Revolution Without Me

I can’t even.

1972 Eagle in a Cage

Eagle in a Cage (1972) is set during the Napoleonic Wars. I guess at least she owns a hairbrush here?

1972 Eagle in a Cage

Oh yeah, I’m getting SUCH a Regency/Empire vibe here!

1974 Napoleon and Love

As Empress Josephine in Napoleon and Love (1974). Not as bad as Ursula Andress, I grant you.

1974 Napoleon and Love

But I’m not feeling it.

1975 The Fifty Pound Note

Meh in 1920s-set The Fifty Pound Note (1975).

1980 A Tale of Two Cities

Super randomly cast, imho, as Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities (1980).

1983 Jamaica Inn

Acceptable in Jamaica Inn (1983).

1984 Camille

I have NO IDEA WHAT IS 1840S ABOUT THIS (Camille).

1987 Maurice

Alright, I like this Edwardian look, but then Maurice (1987) IS Merchant Ivory.

1988 The Dressmaker

Fine, whatever (The Dressmaker).

1989 The Fifteen Streets

I can handle this (The Fifteen Streets).

2000 Quills

I don’t remember her in Quills (2000), but I’ll bet she bugged me.

 

Which actors/actresses stick out like sore thumbs to you in period films?

 

 

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

25 Responses

  1. Caradoc

    While reading abt Billie Whitelaw I was thinking “where have I seen that face before?”, then I remembered she was in Hallmark’s Merlin (1998) playing Merlin’s adoptive mother, Aunt Ambrosia!!!
    The Hallmark miniseries is entertaining, it has a mix of late-roman, early medieval, celtic & pure fantasy costumes. Have you seen it?

    BTW I hate the look Welch & Andreas were given in those historical movies, if it wasn’t so offensive I would laugh.

    Reply
    • Nicolassa

      Same!!! Then it hit me…she also played Mrs. Medlock in Hallmark’s The Secret Garden (1987), which I watched about eleventy billion times as a kid. Guess she had a thing for Hallmark miniseries/movies.

      Reply
    • MoHub

      Just an FYI, Billie Whitelaw’s hair in Robin Hood was cut short because she wanted to join the band and was trying to fit in. Likewise, that’s why she’s wearing men’s clothing.

      Reply
  2. Viola

    Florence Pugh. Or rather, Florence Pugh in Little Women – she looked fine in Lady Macbeth, but something about her face and hair looks massively 2010s to me in Little Women. Maybe it was just very poor styling.

    Reply
  3. Katie

    Kiera Knightley. She can do ok in the 1920s, when the “coltish”, slouchy look was a thing, but otherwise she just seems so contemporary.

    Reply
  4. mmcquown

    The only rationale fr these castings is a high Q factor and Big Box Office. But it’s no more fair to the actress because most of them are so heavily typed they can’t sell anything else. Swank is the only one in that list who has the chops for anything else, and in something like Million Dollar Baby, she’s fantastic, and I didn’t think she was all that bad in Necklace, but otherwise she does seem to have been miscast. As for Raquel Welch, all her talent is on her chest.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      And me. She’s competent enough, but boring, even though she obviously tries her damnedest. (K.K. as Colette. Long shudder.) And what is it about Swank, who can be marvelous in modern roles? It’s not just the features or the overall look. Insufficient direction? Doesn’t move well in the frocks? Not right for a period’s idea of beauty and elegance or whatever?

      Something I liked about the 1995 P&P was that Susannah Harker played Jane the Beautiful One, and she really did conform to the English standards of serene classical beauty, which could seem dull to late 20th-century eyes next to Ehle’s sparkle. They were a lovely sister act.

      Reply
      • Constance

        I have a dislike for Hilary Swank…maybe not rational but I just do. But I only watch period as far as movies/TV so I get very specific as to which actors I like, dislike or cannot bear. I look forward to new period dramas of the eras I crave and feel such a let down if they cast the “wrong” people. :)

        Reply
  5. Katie O

    I liked Sienna Miller in Stardust (hairpin shortage aside) but I agree that in Casanova it just wasn’t a good fit.

    I like Emma Watson both as an actress and as a person, but the few frock flicks I’ve seen her in I never feel like she belongs in that period. I think she actually has the right look for it, but it’s something about how she carries herself I think. I never forget that she’s Emma Watson, Harry Potter actress and activist. But I don’t have that problem with her modern roles.

    Reply
  6. Nzie

    I haven’t seen it, but I discovered a few weeks ago that there was a film version of Brothers Karamazov with William Shatner (!) as Alexei. I don’t know what kind of job he did (although the costumes look generic at best, and bad many times in the trailer) but he strikes me as someone easier to believe in the future than the past.

    I also think I’d have a hard time picturing someone like Affleck in anything super historical. Maybe mid-20th he could get away with. Although maybe I’m not being fair; he has pretty good poise/carriage sometimes. Poor guy has a hard time getting past the role of an idiot he got an Oscar for writing.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Julie Norvell

      I saw that version of The Brothers Karamazov many years ago, so I don’t remember it well, but that was before Shatner was Capt. Kirk. He was a serious actor back then and was OK as Alexei. Nothing to write home about, but also not scenery chewing either.

      Reply
  7. Alexander Sanderson

    The pic of Raquel Welch as a slutty nun is hilarious! I actually spat out a gulp of wine when I laughed as I saw it. Ms Welch was horrendously good in The Four Musketeers; I feel that she was so bad she actually worked in the comical context of the film… but boy were her costumes terrible!

    Reply
    • Melanie

      I agree about the Three/Four Musketeers–Raquel Welch plays a ditzy cream puff, and with the bawdy romp-like tone of the films, it totally works.

      Reply
  8. Elessa Wylde

    What is up with the Regency(?) hair button worn by Billie Whitelaw? Not sure what the hairdressers were thinking with that one.

    Reply
  9. Sam Marchiony

    Sienna’s in her stays for that Casanova picture bc she and Casanova were about to be hanged. Anyway, Julia Roberts has a very similar issue to Hilary Swank for me— such a modern kind of beauty and method of acting. I remember it most clearly in Mona Lisa Smile because the majority of the actresses she was playing against have such soft, rounded faces by comparison, and she’s all angles.

    Reply
    • Katie O.

      I feel like it worked in Mona Lisa Smile just because she was supposed to be a modernizing influence in comparison to the girls at the school who were more stuck in the past. It’s about the only period role I’ve enjoyed her in for that very reason though.

      Reply
  10. Mona

    I always felt Claudia Cardinale looked too contemporary in the otherwise perfect Visconti “Leopard “. Hair & costume were right but her face is so mid 20th century.

    Reply
  11. Jillian

    Seriously, DO NOT watch The Homesman. It is depressing as fuck, and just looks bleak as all hell, literally.

    Reply

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