TBT: The Dead (1987)


In case you haven’t guessed, we can kind of be literary nerds here at Frock Flicks (check out the adapted from books tag, for starters). Obviously, a lot of historical costume dramas are versions of novels like Jane Austen or plays like Shakespeare. But some are obscure things like this 1914 short story penned by Irishman James Joyce. The film, The Dead (1987), is a fairly faithful adaption of this thinky character study that tells of a 12th Night, or Feast of the Epiphany, dinner party and dance held by two older sisters for their friends and family. The title refers the theme of how those who’ve passed affect those who are living, which is subtly woven through the plot.

The Dead (1987)

Whoa there, it’s not that kind of a movie — but excellent little collar.

No, this isn’t a thrilling or sexy movie, and the costumes aren’t super shiny. But if you’re in the mood for something smart and moving that also shows a historically accurate slice of life in early 20th-century Dublin, this fits the bill. Anjelica Huston’s Irish accent is superb, and this is notable as one of Colm Meany’s earliest film roles (before he became the token Irish Guy in every movie after 1990). Designer Dorothy Jeakins was nominated for a Best Costume Oscar for this film; it was her last movie after a long career in Hollywood, designing costumes for films like The Sound of Music (1965) and winning three Oscars.

The Dead (1987)

Full view of the main costume Anjelica Huston wears — behind the scenes with the movie’s director John Huston, far right. He’s Anjelica’s father, & Huston’s son Tony adapted the story for film.

The Dead (1987)

Young Colm Meany.

Not much actually happens in this film, but how The Dead unfolds is so lyrical and elegant, it’s like poetry. Compared to some other “plotless” movies, this feels rich, deep, and thoughtful, not thrown together. Each scene has a purpose, each word of dialog carries meaning that, as with poetry, you have to interpret carefully. This is far from mindless entertainment. You’ll have to work for it, but The Dead is rewarding as a film, much like Joyce can be rewarding to read. The visuals make it easier here, as does the music woven through the movie.

The Dead (1987)

Great side-eye (and note her shamrock brooch).

The Dead (1987)

Nice petticoats shown as she’s taking off her galoshes (that’s the new thing from the Continent, you know).

The Dead (1987)

Some wine is spilled at dinner. It is that kind of party.



About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

8 Responses

  1. Bridget

    This is one of my favorite Christmastime movies ever. We watch it again every year, and every year it’s just as wonderful and beautiful.

  2. Northcountrygal

    I just watched this movie again! Actually I watch it every Epiphany. It is just perfect. So much of it is funny and then that ending comes in and zings me every time – I always arm myself with tissues.

  3. Sarah Lorraine

    I think Anjelica Huston’s accent is so great because she spent a significant amount of her youth growing up in Ireland. It’s almost natural!

  4. Janette

    And Phineas Finn!!. (from the BBC The Pallisers 1971) or to be more correct, Donal McCann.