Stage Beauty (2004) ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites in terms of eye-candy, and yet it’s fairly overlooked amongst the historical costume flick aficionados. It’s visually gorgeous, the script deals artfully with notoriously easy-to-fuck-up topics like bisexuality, gender fluidity, and sexual objectification. It’s got Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Rupert Everett, and a young Zoë Tapper.
Based on the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, it does play a little fast and loose with history, switching up things like Nell Gwyn‘s stage debut (in the film, she doesn’t begin performing publicly until after she’s the King’s mistress, whereas in real life, Charles II “discovered” her while she was working as an actress); the timeline of when Charles II made it legal for women to act in public (in the film, this doesn’t happen until after Claire Danes’ character makes a sensational debut in a public staging of “Othello” and Chaz is delighted with the novelty of a woman playing a woman’s role on stage); and credits Ned with creating the innovative “natural acting” style that, in real life, wasn’t even a thing for another 250 years. But whatever, it’s a great story regardless! And the costumes, designed by Tony-award-winning costumer Tim Hatley, are fabulous!
The centerpiece of the story is the relationship between Maria and Ned… She has a major crush on him, and he’s mostly oblivious to her because he’s a star, baby!
If I were Maria, I would have probably lived off of that hand-kiss for a month…
The portrait engravings around the mirror are a nice touch.
As modernized historical portraits go, this one isn’t terrible.
And you wonder why I love this film so much…
Physically, I think Billy Crudup was a poor choice for the role of Ned, but he nails the character beautifully.
This bodice is awful. To be fair, she’s meant to look dowdy, but still.
Maria borrows Ned’s orange gown to meed the King. Samuel Pepys is her date.
Maria is having her portrait painted by Lely, looking pretty unhappy about it. Extra points for the posing gown, though! It’s a style not often seen on film.
The gown and general arrangement of the gown looks a lot like this portrait by Lely of Nell Gwyn | Portrait of Nell Gwyn (1650-1687) by Peter Lely, c. 1675, National Portrait Gallery.
My one quibble with this costume is that the skirts aren’t full enough. Otherwise, it’s got gorgeous hand-stitching all over.
Note the hand-stitching and what looks like a pinned center front. <3
Maria’s gowns get fabulous as she gets more famous.
It’s hard not to love a green taffeta dress.
I love this gown, except for the X-lacing in the front. Should be spiral laced. Also, it should lace up the back, but since she’s having to get dressed herself, I’ll let it slide.
Rupert Everett as a most affable Charles II.
Words cannot describe how much I love this costume. And Rupert Everett.
These bitches, pt. 1.
These bitches, pt. 2.
Zoë Tapper as Nell Gwyn. Gotta point out that Nelly was a red head… But other than that, this dress is my favorite one in the film.
She makes one hell of a cute guy, too.
Another fabulous gown for Nell.
I WANT HIS CAP.
What did you think about Stage Beauty? Tell us in the comments!
I loved Stage Beauty! Those dresses. And Maria and Ned’s scenes together were so interesting.
And Rupert Everett is my favorite Charles II!
I also love and drool over this overlooked film. Clare Danes was brill in her character development. Maria goes from an ‘instant success’ but without knowing how to act to an actress.
My favourites were my favourite breed of dog, named for King Charles, Zoe as Nell and Clare & Rupert. Billy was awesome, but I don’t have to say it to you guys.
His women’s stage role overtook his self awareness and at times gender identity. It was very convincing.
I loved this movie — I’m so glad you covered it. And anything with my favorite dog and the king they were named for is usually fine with me! I thought the shifting eroticism in the film was top-notch, too.
That orange dress is the reason I fell in love with the 1660s. And that scene towards the end where they’re doing the scene from Othello – so good!
I really love this movie. I must re-watch it. :)
I absolutely love this movie! It’s sad that it so often gets overlooked. I loved the costumes, and as someone already said, the dynamic between Ned and Maria is lovely and really interesting. This was the start of my Billy Crudup-crush, basically!
Odd that this period doesn’t seem to do well in the movie theatres (e.g., “Restoration,” “The Libertine,” stuff about Louis XIV); maybe better suited to television series?
I LOVE Sam Pepys, and it made me so happy to see him in film!
I loved the film, looking it for 2 times in the theatre. It was a nice surprise to have Rupert Everett as the king. Perfect role for him (he is just such a aristocricy character).