The Scandalous Lady W (2015) is a one-off TV movie that tells the story of Seymour Dorothy Fleming, Lady Worsley (1758-1818), whose marriage (to a real peach) crumbled in the 1780s. It stars Natalie Dormer (from Game of Thrones and The Tudors) as the titular character and is framed as a series of flashbacks during a court case for “criminal conversation” (the hilarious historical term used in England for extramarital affairs). It aired in the UK a few months ago, and I’m sure will air in the US sometime in the coming year – we’ll keep you posted when we find out the release date.
In general, I liked the film. I suspect that the budget wasn’t huge, just based on the number of actors and costume/location repeats, but the quality was high. In general, it’s Natalie Dormer who carries the film, and she plays her role with a nice mix of sensitivity, girl power, naïveté, and strength depending on the scene. I did get a little irritated with her side-mouth thing, but then I’m petty like that.
I didn’t love the framing of the story — instead of a linear timeline, the film focuses on Seymour (yes, that’s her first name!) leaving her husband with her lover, Captain Bisset, and the subsequent trial, with numerous flashbacks to fill in the gaps. I can see why they did it — the scandal (to modern viewers) comes from what pre-dated the trial, not the trial itself. That being said, it made things feel somewhat disjointed at times.
I also felt like the actor playing Captain Bisset either wanted his character to seem like something of a block of wood or he wasn’t given enough in the script to be able to communicate his emotions, because it was hard to understand where he was coming from. Also, he looks like Frodo and that made it hard for me to get into him.
And before you start clutching your pearls, while the story certainly is scandalous (and puts the Duke of Devonshire to shame), it’s actually pretty sad. There is a decent amount of shagging, but it’s not happy shagging, and the shaggers are generally pretty clothed. And I actually quite appreciated that. If this were the 1960s (or hey, even the 1990s), this film would be played as a “Period Romp!” with a Moll Flanders-type giggle. Instead, the film does a great job showing how Seymour might have really felt about the situations she found herself in.
Costumes in The Scandalous Lady W
The costumes were designed by James Keast (Aristocrats, The Ruby in the Smoke, The Shadow in the North, Desperate Romantics, Mr. Selfridge), and while there are some recycled costumes and a lot of re-wearing, he and his team did a good job with what I assume were limited resources. I pretty much liked all of the outfits — they were shiny, they were appropriate to the era (mostly 1781-ish), and they did a good job with adequate amounts of underwear and accessories (something a lot of productions are missing these days — I’m looking at you, Poldark).
Lady Worsley’s Costumes
There are a couple of major (as in lots of screen time) costumes, and a few smaller ones. Probably the most important is this military-inspired riding habit. Not only is it GORGEOUS, beautifully made, and impeccable down to the details, I sincerely appreciate the fact that they made a film about a historical figure and actually went out of their way to exactly reproduce the most famous painting of her. How many times do people make biopics and not bother to actually LOOK at the real historical person? I just felt like this honored the fact that there really was a woman who lived a life. Oh, and it’s fucking gorgeous.
The other Really Big costume is this striped redingote (a style that is a menswear-inspired lady’s dress that was very popular in the 1770s-80s). This outfit is recycled — it was originally made for Garrow’s Law, and we last saw it in Poldark (where I incorrectly thought it was a jacket). It doesn’t bother me, though — I’m happy to see recycled costumes when they’re as gorgeous (and period-appropriate) as this one is. I LOVE the stripes (I mean, come on, STRIPES), and that folded collar is fabulous (I haven’t seen it in period examples, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist). That cut-in-one piece (i.e., no waist seam) back/side back is totally accurate and gorgeous. And they created a great skirt silhouette (again, I’m looking at you, Poldark). I love the hat with the subtle green plumes and ribbons, too.
The third Lots-O-Screen Time is this yellow jacket, which is lovely and has great trim. I love the buttons up the front, too. She wears it with various skirts, usually pink — either striped (left and center) or patterned (right). The only hitch is that she’s shown in it in a scene that implies that she’s coming from her wedding, which was in 1775, but she’s still wearing it in 1781. Oh well, it’s a quick scene, and I don’t begrudge them (presumed) budgetary limitations.
She wears this yellow jacket for a LOT of evening scenes, and it was hard to tell what she was wearing it with. I did spot this one wearing, where it was paired with a green petticoat:
These next few costumes are seen multiple times, but not as much as the above three. This green dress is lovely — I love the color, and the yellow-edged ruched trim is a stunner. She sometimes wears it with a peach petticoat, other times with the same floral pink petticoat worn with the yellow dress. Again, the only problem is the timeline — the first two images are from the scene where she first meets Lord Worsley, which is 1775 or earlier … but she’s still wearing it after she has her second child, in 1781.
This red taffeta dress is her “Fuck you, soon-to-be-ex-husband” dress. I’m not 100% convinced by the capelet (it feels Edwardian), but it’s a good option for making the ensemble work for cold weather. And NICE HAT.
Is this the same dress, worn without the capelet? I think so.
These next costumes are only on screen briefly. First she has her “Fuck you, I’m going to spend all your money, douchebag husband” yellow dress. Here’s where I pause and do the NO BACK-LACING DRESSES happy dance!
Sadly we only see this blue redingote (?) from the chest up. I love the peach color on the collar turn-backs. It’s interesting that it’s got the same collar style as the striped dress above — makes me wonder if it’s another recycled costume? Or were they inspired to emulate the striped dress? I wish we could see more.
This blue and gold striped number is another re-wear — originally from The Duchess (thanks Recycled Movie Costumes!) — and is a reproduction of a real 18th-century jacket held at the Kyoto Costume Institute.
And Lady Worsley’s stays (aka corset) is right out of the famous 18th-century Encyclopédie by Diderot:
Captain Bisset’s Costumes
All of the male characters were dressed nicely for the period with embroidered waistcoats, nicely cut-away coats, etc. And as mentioned above, both Captain Bisset and Lord Worlsey wear their military regiment ensembles.
Lord Worsley’s Costumes
Lordy Worsley is dressed very similarly, although his colors get darker as the court case gets underway.
Everyone Else’s Costumes in The Scandalous Lady W
For your supporting cast, you’ve got the Viscount Deerhurst. He’s mostly in this pink brocade-y number:
But then suddenly turns up in this black corduroy suit. I don’t know if corduroy would really be an option for outerwear, or maybe this is just a “ribbed fabric,” but WHO CARES:
Seymour’s maid gets only one dress despite being in multiple scenes. I like that it’s striped and fits her nicely, but what’s up with the Regency high waistline?
These two maids work at the hotel that Seymour and Bisset stay at. They’re in matching pink jackets and navy blue quilted skirts, which seems awfully uniform, but hey, maybe that was a thing. I like that they bothered to give them fashionably high caps — so often productions ignore the fact that the lower orders followed fashion trends too.
And overall the extras were nicely dressed in 1781-appropriate gear!
Hair: The Good and Bad in The Scandalous Lady W
You know I gotta talk about the hair, especially when it’s 18th-century hair (my specialty).
Overall, I give Seymour’s hair a solid B. I loved the overall shape, although the fact that it always listed to one side annoyed me (I’ve never seen that in the period). I liked that they worked her own hair into her wig/hairpieces, a period-accurate approach to ladies’ hair-styling in this era, and that you could tell they were doing so.
I liked that they bothered to backdate Seymour’s hair in the flashback scenes. It’s not vastly different, but it is higher and narrower, and that makes it work better for 1775ish.
What I didn’t like was that the back of her 1781ish hair was SUPER messy and matted. Okay, I’ll give them a pass on not getting the details on the back of the hair right — it’s something that very films have done right (La Revolution Francaise is one of the few that has). Given that, the shape is fine, but does it need to look like it’s been slept on for a week?
And finally, the trope of “boudoir” hair. The second Seymour started to get shaggy, her hair started falling down all over the place. I can deal — hair gets messy! Although they frequently had bits of hair hanging down on one side of her face, and after a while I just wanted to grab a comb and some Aquanet.
Now, let’s look at the boys. Lord Worsley’s hair was acceptable in that it followed a period-accurate cut (short on top and sides, long from the crown of the head down), although he’d be AWFULLY fashion-forward to not have side rolls (buckles) in 1775.
But Captain Bisset went FULL FRODO MULLET. IT WAS NOT GOOD. Hairstylists seem to do this with curly-haired guys in particular — cut their hair short all over and then give a long tail right at the nape of the neck. But the queue (the long hair in back) should REALLY start at the crown of the head or just below for the 1780s-90s. This looks like something out of The Lost Boys.
In terms of supporting cast and extras…
I liked that the maid’s hair had some height on top. See above re: lower orders following fashion trends!
Mr. Farrar was Lord Worsley’s lawyer and henchman. He looked dapper but ominous most of the time:
But when he showed up in court in his white wig, HELLO.
Most of the minor characters and extras had nice wigs:
But Captain Bisset’s lawyer got a seriously shitty wig. I’m not sure if they were trying to communicate that he’d had to hire a cheap lawyer, or if they just ran out of wigs and found this on the floor of the costume shop.
And side note, this guy should have been a poster child for late 18th-century men as to why they might not want to give up wig wearing quite yet.
Have you seen The Scandalous Lady W or are you waiting for it to arrive on American shores?
What’s the deal with the really hippy bum/hip pads, though? Why do they turn up in everything, why do so many people think they’re a good choice?
Can’t wait to see this movie!
I think it’s a holdover from (modern day) 16th century costume… I think people think it’s just the same crescent-shaped roll!
The capelet might reference the military hunting frock, worn by irregulars in the British Army and many American revolutionaries. Wildly popular with reenactors because it’s relatively easy to make or cheap to buy. .
I’ve seen the film on YouTube. What impressed me was the riding habit created from the portrait. It got a solid thumbs up. I lurved the riding habit.
Lord Worsley was a bastard of the first-water. I keep on wanting to feed him to Drogon.
As a fan of Ms. Dormer, I thought she was perfect as Seymour. However, I wanted her to ditch the Frodo clone and upgrade to either a Mr Darcy-type or a Percy Blakeney-type.
All through my viewing of the film, I kept thanking Ghu that women are no longer subjugated to their husbands. What Worsley ‘convinced’ her to do was beyond reprehensible. Really liked how the men she shagged, were more on her side, not his. I’m waiting for the DVD release in US.
I loved the riding habit, but was annoyed by the messy back and side-listing hair. The story seemed fairly sympathetically covered but I would have loved them to continue it into a two-parter and cover her later life too, rather than the endnote.
The actor playing Bisset gets a lot of work in British TV – he was recently Richard III in ‘The White Queen’!
I’m looking forward to your takes on some of the stuff that’s been shown over the past month or so here – Frankenstein Chronicles, Dickensian, And Then There Were None, Sherlock, Harry Price Ghost Hunter, to name just a few. We get a lot of costume drama here in the UK :)
Yes, more on Seymour’s later life would have been good! You get most of the good costume drama over there, we are constantly trying to get our hands on those shows! We’ll be talking about a lot of those as soon as we can — I’ve seen one episode of Dickensian so far.
There are some blogs about The White Queen which also point out Barnard’s resemblance to Frodo.
I don’t understand why you think someone (even a wealthy woman) might not have the same outfits for six years. Clothing was very expensive and worth keeping.
My mum put outgrown children’s clothing into a trunk for the next bunch to reach that size.
I still have some clothes from my trousseau 48 years ago, and a lot of my clothes are a decade old.
I remember that a local stitchin’ witch showed up at a Rev War event in that riding outfit; it was impressive. I can’t remember her name, but I believe she had her own line of patterns and that was one of them.
I really would love to know how long, on average, stays lasted for women wearing them every day, more hours than I wear mine (3-4 days a week during the season, mostly to give shape and force me to stop slouching, assuming I’m in my fur-trade era post; Diederot is wrong under my 1825 settler gown) and I’m already getting wear. Even with modern reinforcements on the lacing holes and modern material (no one can see the details, but the shape of my 18th century garments with versus without them is dramatic, so I wear them.)
As the costume designer on The Scandalous Lady W, I would like to let you all know that the striped moire costume Lady W wears in the courtroom is NOT the same as the costume in Poldark or Gallows Law, it was made especially for Natalie for the courtroom scenes, The fabric is from the same company but a different colour, The hat was made especially to match the hat. (I will say the costume maker also made the other costume for Gallows Law). AND, yes, the budget was very small, in fact the smallest budget I have worked on for years, I did my best. Very pleased with all the positive comments and pleased people have recognised the research that has gone into my work, James Keast, Costume designer The Scandalous Lady W
Wow, thanks for the info! We’ll let our friend at the Recycled Movie Costumes site know (she has the stripey gown listed as a re-wear here http://www.recycledmoviecostumes.com/stuartgeorgian073.html ). Watching so many of these, it’s kind of a game to catch recycled costumes — we understand budget issues, & of course, a great piece should be seen again. But an original for a new show? Even better. Love your work!
This is one of the coolest parts of this site. Thank you, Mr. Keast, for commenting, and your work is stunning!
Are you open for movie suggestions for your 18th-Century Quest?
I haven’t seen the 1976 movie “The Slipper and the Rose” reviewed on this site yet.
Now, I know you can’t review every single period movie, so I won’t feel bad if you don’t want to/can’t see it, or if it takes a while until you have the time;)
It’s just one of my fav 18th century movies, and I would just like to share it with the world.
(Oh, and is it possible you’ll ever write a costume post for “The Abduction Club”? I know you wrote a couple of sentences about it years ago, but that wasn’t about the costumes)
Slipper and the Rose is on my shortlist!
Was Natalie Dormer still filming Hunger Games at this time? Cos she had her hair shaved on one side for that, and the wonky do to one side could be trying to cover that very-unperiod gap.
I’m actually extremely reluctant to watch this movie because Natalie Dormer has always struck me as too… modern. Like Sienna Miller in Casanova.
And believe it or not, her side lip thing bothers me even MORE than Keira Knightley’s pout!! (It’s unfortunate Keira gets picked for literally EVERY big budget period film! *Rolls eyes*
The only thing that saved her in “The Duchess” was her heartbreaking portrayal of a mother loosing her newborn baby. I still cry every time I see that scene, and I’ve seen it many many times. But still she was a terrible choice for the role)
But honestly, these modern quirks drive me up a wall! I think it’s becasue I have unfairly high standards on how a period era woman should carry herself.
In fact, I thought Holiday Grainger would be a gone case in the Borgias. Then I watched the first season and boy was I wrong about her.
And it could be that the lousy, outrageously modern TV show “Tudors” has contaminated my mental image of poor Natalie.
But god was she adorable in Casanova. She deserved more screen time in my books!! Looked like an absolute 18th century angel!
I think I’ll give this movie a chance given your complementary review! Thanks!
Please don’t crap on Natalie Dormer’s “side lip thing.” That’s the shape of her face, not an affectation, and she has no control over it. She talked about it in an article with the Sunday Times back in 2014.