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Our Man Candy Mondays and Woman Crush Wednesdays are filled with the actors who tend to show up again and again in historical costume movies and TV shows. We start to expect them and their faces become familiar in frock coats or corsets. But not every actor is a natural for frock flicks. Here’s some of the surprising folks who’ve turned up period costume for better or worse…
The Unexpectedly Good
While Nixon has turned to politics recently, for much of her acting career before and after playing businesslike Miranda on Sex and the City, she seemed happy to dabble in frock flicks land.
Lorl in Amadeus (1984)
Eleanor Roosevelt in Warm Springs (2005)
Petranilla in World Without End (2012)
Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion (2016)
Sex and the City‘s Samantha may have been all about a good time, but Kim Cattrall is a classically trained British actress familiar with costume dramas from early in her career to today. She’ll even be featured as Agrippina in the upcoming Horrible Histories movie!
Anne Ware in The Kent Chronicles: Part 1, The Bastard (1978)
Anne Kent in The Kent Chronicles: Part 2, The Rebels (1979)
Justine de Winter in The Return of the Musketeers (1989)
Caroline Kipling in My Boy Jack (2007)
Gloria Scabius in Any Human Heart (2010)
Emily French in The Witness for the Prosecution (2016)
She made her mark in 1983’s Flashdance — oh what a feeling! — as a welder / exotic dancer. But Jennifer Beals has been steadily acting in frock flicks long since she ditched her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt.
Eva in The Bride (1985)
Lady Olivia Candioni in The Gamble (1988)
Gertrude Benchley in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
Amanda Dickson in A House Divided (2000)
Dolly Rose in The Feast of All Saints (2001)
Margo Taft in The Last Tycoon (2017)
The Unsurprisingly Bad
He’s a creepy Scientologist and not a great actor in general. So OBVIOUSLY he’s not a value-add to a frock flick. Yet for some reason, Kendra admits she has a cheesy affection for Far and Away (1992) despite Cruise’s shitty accent, and I must admit I adore the infinite vampire schlock of Interview With the Vampire (1994), including Cruise’s overblown Lestat. Haven’t seen The Last Samurai (2003), but the whole concept looks deeply problematic, and I doubt Tom Cruise makes it better.
Oh pretty woman, you don’t belong in historical costume. But in 1996, someone thought you did — with a bonus shitty Irish accent — in Mary Reilly and Michael Collins. WHHHHYY?!??!
Many people love her Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, but I feel like that’s the same character she always plays. Thus, her Fanny Price in 2007’s Mansfield Park, Sally Lockhart Victorian mystery series (2006-2007), and whore/undead chick in Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) were uniformly weaksauce.
The Princess Bride (1987) kind of doesn’t count because the story is a fairy tale and didn’t ask much of her as Princess Buttercup. But Moll Flanders (1996) required a bit more, and Robin Wright didn’t deliver. Just watch her in current flicks and ignore these early attempts.
Some actors can jump from comedy to drama, from modern to historical, with ease. Some, not so much. Ben, play to your strengths. You can act in comedy and write/produce in drama. Don’t mix it up like you tried in Shakespeare in Love (1998) or Pearl Harbor (2001). He’s working on a new version of The Witness for the Prosecution, and I hope he’s not starring in it.
She won a Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1999), which seems like over-praise for a nice, fluffy performance. That was better, at least, than her Emma (1996), one of the worst of the mid-’90s Austen craze. Currently, she seems obsessed with her GOOP nonsense, which is at least keeping her out of costume dramas.
Slap out of it! Cher can sing, dance, and act with the best of them, including an occasional frock flick like the charming Mermaids (1990) and Tea With Mussolini (1999).
Neil Patrick Harris
Somewhere between Doogie Howser M.D. (1989-1993) and How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014), NPH snuck in one frankly forgettable frock flick, Joan of Arc (1999). There’s potential for him to do better now, maybe in a musical?
Having enjoyed Penn as surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), I’d never have predicted he’d go on to win Oscars for deep emotional performances, including in one of my favorite films Milk (2004). That one doesn’t exactly count as a frock flick, since the events happened during my lifetime and I vividly remember them, but hey, I break my own rules sometimes. Less surprising was Sean Penn’s turn in Shanghai Surprise (1986), a spectacularly bad flick set in the ’30s with his then-wife Madonna.
This supermodel is best known for her Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers and various reality TV shows. But in the ’90s she popped up in the historical costume movies Sirens (1994), as a scantily clad artist’s model, and Jane Eyre (1996), as Jane’s super pretty rival. Uh, typecast much?
Who’d have thought that hipster nerd Schwartzman of Rushmore (1998) and Slackers (2002) would make such a sweet and perfect Louis XVI in Marie Antoinette (2006) or the snappy Disney songwriter Richard Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)?
Which actors do you think should or should NOT give historical costume movies a try?