We know how y’all love 1970s British miniseries around here, so sometimes we’ll oblige with a deep-dive! I was in the mood, so I gave Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) a watch in the last week it was available on AcornTV. I didn’t realize when I started watching the first of seven episodes that it was going to leave the streaming service, but soon enough, there was a warning that the series would be leaving in a few days, so I had to binge the whole thing (not my preferred method of viewing) and scramble for screencaps. So don’t say I never did anything for ya!
The series chronicles the adult life of American-born socialite Jennie Jerome, who married three times, and was the mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Starting in 1873, the story spans seven episodes and ends with Jennie’s death in 1921, so we see quite a range in costumes, which were designed by Jane Robinson and Jill Silverside. American actress Lee Remick stars as Jennie, and she would have been in her late 30s when the series was filmed, so, as usual with these things, her playing the 20 year old at her first marriage strains credulity a smidge. But it doesn’t matter much in the majority of the series.
Jennie’s life is often described as vivacious, full of high society parties and numerous affairs with powerful men. But this series is oddly restrained and maybe respectful as she’s Churchill’s mom — her three marriages are shown and it’s noted that the second two are with younger men, but that’s not portrayed as terribly scandalous on her part, more on theirs, and only one affair is depicted and it’s styled as the great love of her life. Her first marriage is shown as highly compatible on a personal and political level, and that does make sense with the historical details since she was a part of his and later Winston’s political campaigns. So while this isn’t as juicy a series as Lillie (1978), I didn’t find it as boring as The Duchess of Duke Street (1976) — Sarah and I will disagree on the later.
What it shares with these and other British miniseries of the time is amazeballs costumes and plenty of them! Some are literally shared (as you’ll see), and the quality is high with excellent attention to historical accuracy. I’ve attempted to catalog all of Jennie’s main gowns, only skipping things like nightclothes and robes, and while the secondary characters and extras are also exquisitely costumed, I gotta limit this somehow (besides, I ran out of time before this series left AcornTV, and I couldn’t screencap anything more!).
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 1
Riding Habit #1
Not a lot to say, except that Jennie was quite fond of riding all her life, so y’know, accurate in that at least.
Spotted Dinner Gown
This promo pic (and there are damn few of those!) shows the whole fam in the ensembles they wear for the first few dinner and evening-at-home scenes. Jennie will wear a lot of spotted, dotted pale gowns throughout the series.
White Ballgown Circa 1873
This frothy white ballgown is what she wears to a ball on shipboard at Cowes where she meets Lord Randolph. They met in 1873 and were supposedly engaged a few days later. The miniseries drags it out just a tad longer, but it’s still a whirlwind romance.
Lavender Dinner Gown
Lord Randolph makes his move at dinner with Jennie’s family, and she’s game.
Clara’s Pink Dinner Gown
I’m mostly ignoring the other character’s costumes since Jennie is the real clotheshorse here, but a few interested me enough to screencap!
Purple Stripe Day Dress
This is what Jennie wears when she and Randolph sneak away and agree to marry. She later wears it to argue with her mom about said engagement. If you didn’t guess that I love this outfit, you haven’t been paying attention ;)
White & Black Matching Day Dresses on Clara & Jennie
The matching outfits worn by the sisters for an outdoor visit to a ruined castle reminded me of something I’d seen before. A friend pinpointed it exactly — the designers reproduced the two ladies at the center of this Tissot painting. Which, coincidentally is titled “The Ball on Shipboard” and described as “a scene at Cowes during Regatta Week” — the miniseries turns the painting’s event into where Randolph and Jennie meet, but uses the gowns later.
Clara wears hers later (shown above) when Jennie argues with Mom about the engagement, and Jennie wears it again when she’s arguing with Dad about her marriage settlement.
I think what strikes me as off about the women’s hair is that it’s so smooth and has a Gibson Girl bump / roundness in the front. We’re not there yet in hair though!
Jennie’s Wedding Gown
The series shows hardly any of their wedding, just faces and hands at the very end of the first episode. She’s wearing traditional Victorian orange blossoms on her head, that’s all I can really tell.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 2
Brown & Blue Plaid Day Dress
Newly married, Jennie enters Blenheim Palace, Lord Randolph’s family home (he’s the third son of the Duke of Marlborough, so a gentleman but won’t inherit the title). These episodes were filmed at the palace, and it does “grand and imposing” quite well.
Pale Green Dinner Gown
I’m calling this gown “pale green” but it’s hard to pin down the color on TV or in screencaps. She wears it for the first formal dinner with her stuffy, boring in-laws, and another evening engagement in this episode.
Brown & Blue Plaid Day Dress With Cape
Her in-laws are really into The Country Life, so we get an extended hunting scene with a lot of bird gore (that probably looked much more bloody in the original airing of the show; it’s faded and blurred quite a bit in this print). I feel like this cape, skirt, and muff are the same fabric as the first outfit Jennie wears in this episode and the blue contrast looks similar (including the sleeve ruffle shape), but I can’t tell what’s going on with the bodice. Is something unbuttoned? Is the blue bow really huge and covering up the front buttons?
Grey Embroidered Coat Circa 1874
When Jennie is wearing this coat ensemble, it’s noted that she’s pregnant. Her and Randolph’s first son, Winston Churchill, was born on November 30, 1874, thus giving the clothes a timeline.
White Ballgown at Masquerade Party
As soon as Winston is born, Jennie demands to return to London for parties and funtimes, like this masked ball. Where the Prince of Wales is also hanging out — it’s rumored that Jennie was one of his many lovers, but the miniseries sidesteps this and just makes them friends.
Grey Day Dress
Winston is a toddler in this scene, so it’s still in the 1870s, which tracks with the softly bustled shape of this gown. But the hair could be better, to wit:
White & Black Princess-Seam Dress Circa 1875
This STUNNING dress is a bit fashion-forward for the date. Jennie wears it during several scenes where Randolph and his family are discussing a scandal that his older brother, George, was involved in. George (who was married) was having an affair with a married woman, and her husband threatens divorce. However, the Prince of Wales had been involved in covering up the affair and sent letters revealing this matter, which Randolph gets hold of. It’s somehow sorted out so the Prince isn’t exposed to the public, but Randolph falls out of favor. This all happens when the Prince of Wales is touring India from late 1875 to early 1876.
Now, this slim princess-seamed gown with very little bustling in the back really came into fashion in the second half of the 1870s. You find a lot of fashion plates in this style around 1877 to 1880. So Jennie wearing it in fall of 1875 is plausible but just barely. That said, it’s gorgeous, and totally in line with the striking black-and-white looks she wears throughout the series.
Ivory & Green Day Dress
One thing that these big 1970s BBC series were really good at was creating a wardrobe for characters, and then showing the characters wearing pieces over and over again, like real people would. Accessories might change, a few pieces swapped in or out, but you don’t need a brand new outfit for every single scene. Also, you don’t throw out all your clothes just because the fashions change every year. The bustle shape started wide and big in the early 1870s, shrank dramatically in the late 1870s to just a swept-back skirt with and trimmings focused on the back, then the bustle got aggressively shaped straight back and big again in the 1880s until 1890, when it went away. But even a fashionable upper-class woman might wear any and all varieties of these bustles from 1870 to 1890, depending on what was in her closet, what she’d had made over, what type of occasion she was attending, and whether or not she cared about being super-fashionable at that moment or at all.
Consider how jeans styles change in contemporary times. Boot-cut is in for a while, then skinny jeans are fashionable, then it’s high-waisted jeans, and don’t forget about all the different washes (colors) of jeans! Acid-wash was totally the fashion when I was in high school, and I think it’s come back a few times since then as a “retro” fashion, lol. But you probably wear what’s in your closet that you enjoy, that fits you, and that suits wherever you’re going. It was the same in Ye Olden Days.
Just a nice coat to close out the episode. There are plenty of coats, nightgowns, robes, and such that I’m not chronicling because I ran out of steam, but this one appealed to me. Also, that’s Blenheim Palace in the background again.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 3
Riding Habit #2
This riding habit is no big deal, but I’m including it because there’s a photo of the real Jennie in a riding habit around this time. They’re vaguely similar.
Lavender Evening Gown
This lovely gown with lots of period details is sadly worn for one brief scene where Jennie has an annoyed after-dinner conversation with her stuffy in-laws. Wish she’d reworn this one later in the episode! But her hair is now very flat and kind of dull, which is a pity because 1880s hairstyles could be very elaborate with lots of height from curls, waves, or braids, plus ringlets were OK too.
Butterfly Evening Gown
But oof, that butterfly! Beading was used, yes. And metal sequins were used, sure. But this much? In a butterfly pattern? I can’t find anything like it in a fashion plate or extant gown. Let’s just compare to an actual picture of Lady Randolph in evening wear, where the gown shape is similar, but that’s where it ends:
Pink Day Dress
For some plein air painting, Jennie wears this pink tone-on-tone striped gown that looks like it stepped out of a Tissot painting itself.
Black Sparkly Evening Gown
In this scene, Jennie and her sister Leonie wear similar black bustle gowns with sheer net sleeves and necklines. It’s a style that was done in the period (there’s a photo of Jennie in such a gown) but something about these renditions of it looks very modern. I think it’s the type of sheer fabric, plus the cut of the neckline under the sheer fabric.
Red & White Plaid Day Dress
This red and white outfit seems a bit transitional, like later 1880s to almost 1890 in silhouette. But this scene is too early in the chronology (even though she will wear it later in a more appropriate time period).
Gold Sparkly Evening Gown
This evening outfit reminds me of 1880s fancy-dress outfits, with all the decoration and this specific shape.
Pink & Brown Day Dress Circa 1885
Jennie wears this outfit to campaign for her husband in the election of 1885, which he wins.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 4
Red & White Plaid Day Dress
I’m not generally repeating costumes that show up in multiple episodes, but this one had better views than the first time around. Jennie wears this during a discussion with her lover, Count Karel Kinsky (played by Jeremy Brett!). This is the only one of her many rumored affairs that the series includes, and it’s portrayed as the great, tragic love of her life. Eh, sounds fanciful, but it does make for decent TV. Oh, and I think by this point, Randolph has told Jennie he has syphilis, which is true that he was diagnosed with it, though historians have debated if that was accurate and what eventually killed him.
Randolph and Jennie are fighting about politics (weirdly, not about her affair with Kinsky or about his syphilis), and Jennie cries to her mother-in-law, who’s gone full Queen Victoria in her own mourning.
Mother-in-Law’s Black & Purple Bustle Dress
Speaking of Jennie’s mother-in-law, I’m including her outfit because, look, she’s wearing a solidly 1880s style bustle gown. And as we’ll see with more of Jennie’s costumes, it’s probably in the 1890s in this episode (and the episode ends in 1895). So you get the trope of the “old lady wearing outdated clothes” … or do you? Wait for it …
This suit seems like a solid entry into the 1890s in style and cut.
Dotted Tulle Dress
To lounge with her lover, Jennie wears this sweet, pale pink-tinged gown. It’s all tragic romance, right there.
Leonie’s Brown Suit
To comfort her sister, Leonie wears this elegant-yet-OTT 1890s suit. The fit is gorgeous and the design is chef’s kiss.
While Leonie’s take on 1890s fashion is dark and fitted, Jennie goes light and froofy. This really emphasizes that she’s leading with her heart here, wanting to run away with Kinsky, but being forced to stay by her dying husband’s side.
Pink & Brown Dotted Suit
Compared to her sister’s suit, Jennie’s is fussy & overwrought. Of course, she wears it for a heart-rending goodbye to her lover, so yeah, that tracks.
Mother-in-Law’s Purple Dress
Old ladies always wear outdated clothes, do they? Well here’s Jennie’s mother-in-law again, same episode, can’t be more than a few years later, and she’s wearing an 1890s style gown with big, puffed sleeves. My point is that earlier, she wore a gown that was just a few years “out of date” but that’s normal, real people could wear clothes in a 5- or 10-year span. And real people can mix up their clothes and sometimes wear things that are perfectly au courant as well.
Mourning Dress Circa 1895
Lord Randolph dies on January 24, 1895, leaving Jennie a widow with two mostly grown sons and not much money. She’s lost Kinsky, and she’s on her own.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 5
White & Black Dotted Day Dress
The neckline on this dotted ensemble is immediately identifiable, so it’s easy to spot (pun intended) when this gown has been reused. Sarah admired it in The Duchess of Duke Street (1976) and Recycled Movie Costumes notes that this wasn’t even the first rewear! The costume has been used in filmed productions as recently as 2014, showing a 40-year frock flick longevity.
White Lace Blouse & Skirt
Jennie wears this outfit first when she’s flirting with George Cornwallis-West (who’s just 16 days older than her son Winston). She wears it again for a meal with the Prince of Wales, and finally when convincing an officer to help out her cause for the brewing Second Boer War.
Black Feather-Trimmed Evening Gown
This extravagant evening gown seems a little wasted on a brief conversation between mother and sons. But part of the scene is Winston chastising Jennie for her spending (while acknowledging he has ridiculous spending habits too), because none of them have a steady income source. So I suppose, in that respect, her wearing a gown decked in exuberant feathers drives home Winston’s point.
Pale Pink & Black Dotted Day Dress
For a while, I couldn’t tell if this was the same as the White & Black Dotted Dress from the start of this episode, maybe with the distinctive neckline covered up. But then I saw the waistline trim on this gown, plus those “dots” are really leaves. And it wasn’t just an off cast to the screen, the gown really is pink, while the first one is white. Jennie wears it for more canoodling with George, plus some arguing with Winston.
White Ruffled Blouse Circa 1899
Jennie wears this typical “working woman” outfit when she’s putting together her magazine, The Anglo-Saxon Review, which was published in 1899, so again, that nails the timeline.
Brown Moire Suit
Jennie wears this suit in several scenes when she’s arranging for her war effort — setting up a hospital ship to care for the wounded.
Nurse’s Suit Circa 1902
During the Second Boer War in 1902, Jennie sets sail for South Africa on her hospital ship. Her younger son John becomes one of her patients. These scenes were accurately recreated.
White Evening Gown
The episode ends with Jennie deciding to marry George Cornwallis-West, which happens in 1900, though it isn’t shown in the series. While in reality, their wedding happened before Jennie left on the hospital ship, the series flips the sequence of events and makes her war efforts essential to realizing she does want to marry George.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 6
This scene opens with Jennie & George married, Jennie is writing her memoirs (to publish for money because they have no income), and George is bored. I think she’s wearing the same skirt as she did last episode with the White Ruffled Blouse Circa 1899.
White Lace Yoked Blouse
Both of Jennie’s sons are finally getting married, with a tiny bit of finagling on her account.
Pale Green & Lace Tea Gown
I hate this gown. The sleeves look too 1970s — and maybe they’re accurate, but nothing immediately comes to mind, plus the color / fabric combo screams “polyester caftan lounging on the lanai.” The tape-lace on the rest of the dress is appropriate for the period though.
Brown & Black Evening Gown
I also hate this gown of Jennie’s. Sure, there is something vaguely like cold shoulders in the period, but not like this with big honkin’ ruffles. Between those sleeves and the sweetheart neckline, it looks like a cliché Old West saloon girl. Compare with this photo of Lady Randolph Churchill from 1902, where you can see a hint of shoulder, but nothing like that costume.
Jennie wears this suit (or the jacket) in several scenes, first over a blouse and then over the next dress. The jacket is covered in tons of soutache embroidery evocative of the period.
White With Black Day Dress
In addition to wearing this dress underneath the previous suit jacket, she wears it alone in several scenes so we get a good view of the lovely lace bodice.
White & Black Suit
Really freakin’ amazing coat here! That black stitched trim is gorgeous, and it’s all around the bottom of the coat (which is barely seen onscreen) as well as the collar and cuffs (that get good closeups).
Black & Grey Dress Circa 1909
Jennie wears this costume to the premiere of her play, “His Borrowed Plumes” (also the name of this episode), which occurred in 1909, so we know where we are in time again. This sequence of black-and-white (and grey) outfits is interesting because her marriage to George Cornwallis-West is falling apart as it’s obvious the two have nothing in common — and he begins an affair with the lead actress in this play (whom he later marries). Jennie separates from him in 1912, and they’re divorced in 1914, but onscreen, she kicks him out right after the play and there the episode ends.
Costumes in Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) Episode 7
Grey Suit Circa 1914
World War I has started, and Jennie is depressed but helping the war efforts. She’s wearing grey and blue, literally looking depressed, but still fashionable for the period.
Blue-Silver-Grey Evening Gown
Jennie plays piano to raise money for war charities and wears this evening gown. I can’t tell what exact color it is, something between blue and grey with a silvery cast to it. Elegant but still depressed.
Can’t really see much of this suit, just the fox fur and the hat. I wonder if the costume designers were going for this look?
Cream Lace Dress
Very pretty gown in a creamy almost taupe satin with a lace overlay. Very typical styling for the period. She and the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey could hang out.
Leonie’s Black Sheer Blouse
LOOOOOOVE this blouse on Leonie! I think it’s a burnout velvet, though it might be embroidery? Can’t be sure, but I would wear the shit out of it.
Art Nouveau Kimono
This is a beautiful and interesting costume. The kimono is covered in a stylized floral pattern done in the art nouveau style and not in a naturalistic floral pattern that’s more typical of Japanese kimonos. There’s a touch of cultural appropriation since we see a Japanese kimono shape in a Western print, worn over a Western blouse by a white woman. But also in the early 1900s, the Tokyo department store Mitsukoshi was actively using art nouveau styles to create and promote the idea of the “contemporary kimono” with changing fashion trends and not a static traditional garment. The article “Promoting Art Nouveau in Modern Tokyo: Mitsukoshi and the “Contemporary Kimono” by Saskia Thoelen is a fascinating look at this topic, and it makes me wonder how much of this trend affected the export market, since certain kimonos were made specifically to sell to Westerners outside Japan.
Jennie wears this costume when she meets with a young fellow she’s been corresponding with, Montagu Phippen Porch. He’s 3 years younger than her son Winston. But she and Montagu get their flirt on.
White Lace Day Dress
Looking closely at the neckline on this gown, I wonder if that’s a blouse under a V-necked gown, and the blouse is the same one worn under the kimono? If so, good on the costume designer for recycling pieces from scene to scene.
Brown Suit Circa 1918
Jennie and Montagu Phippen Porch marry in 1918, and this is the only of her three weddings that gets significant screentime. Her brown suit may seem simple, but look at that contrast stitching along the front ruffle and cuffs!
Black & Gold Evening Gown
At an evening gathering, someone plays newfangled tunes on the victrola, and Jennie kicks up her heels, showing how she’s hip with kids these days and their crazy dance steps. She even gets her sister into the act. Her evening gown may look serious and refined, but she’s still a party girl at heart!
Pink Day Dress
This is dowdy AF, and I think the appliqués at the waistline are a cheap version of the embroidery that would have been done in the era.
Blue Evening Gown Circa 1921
This floofly blue evening outfit is what Jennie wears when she has the accident that leads quickly to her death in 1921. The camera focuses on her maid adjusting the straps on Jennie’s shoes, then Jennie rushes down the stairs and falls. Wikipedia does say she “slipped while coming down a friend’s staircase wearing new high-heeled shoes, breaking her ankle,” so I guess this is close to reality. The accident happened in May, gangrene set in, and by June, her leg had to be amputated. She died that month at age 67.
Have you watched Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill? What do you think of the costumes?