The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

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The Pale Blue Eye (2022) recently dropped on Netflix, and I decided to give it a watch, being a fan of both Edgar Allan Poe and wacky 1830s fashion. Right off the bat, it’s really not a Poe-biopic at all, so abandon that idea if you’re thinking you’re going to get something remotely based in historical fact (ok, Poe did attend West Point for a hot second). And Poe, played by Harry Melling (The Queen’s Gambit, and of course, the Harry Potter franchise), is mostly a sidekick to Christian Bale’s moody and inscrutable Inspector Landor, who is called to West Point to investigate a series of gruesome murders. The rest of the cast is packed with notables, such as Gillian Anderson, Toby Jones, and Lucy Boynton (who is starting to rack up a number of frock flicks and will shortly need her own Woman Crush Wednesday post). The plot is based on the 2003 novel of the same name, by Louis Bayard, which itself is derived from the Poe poem, “Lenore,” but again, it’s more Poe in vibe than anything. Landor certainly comes across as a precursor to Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, and I think we are supposed to infer that Landor is Poe’s inspiration for the character, but it’s not something the movie plot dwells too much on, so only people who actually read Poe’s mystery novels will make the connection.

The film itself is fine, nothing really to write home about (or fill an entire post deconstructing and discussing), so if you’re into period murder mysteries you probably will at least be mildly entertained. But if you’re here for the costumes, there’s a lot more to unpack.

The military costumes are beautifully done.

The film is set in 1830, and for the most part, the costumes stick pretty faithfully to that year (with only one notable deviation, which I will discuss below). And for a flick that takes place at a military academy, there are several female characters central to the plot who have a fair bit of screen time and who are attired gorgeously. I will also add that the menswear is really beautifully done, but with all menswear post-1820, it tends to be pretty standard frock-coat-waistcoat-top-hat-ok-cool-whatever-bring-on-the-ridiculous-bonnets-and-big-sleeves. The costumes were designed by Kasia Walicka-Maimone, who most recently designed the gorgeous costumes in The Gilded Age (2022-). The designs are clearly meticulously researched and beautifully brought to life for the screen. No idea if Walicka-Maimone will get an Oscar nod for her work on this film, but in my humble opinion it deserves a lot more recognition than it’s getting in the general press.

Eric Winterling, who created a number of the gowns worn by the female leads, has been sharing photos of the costumes over on his Instagram account, and I highly recommend checking out the posts:

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

Costume worn by Lucy Boynton, designed by Kasia Walicka-Maimone and stitched by Eric Winterling’s workshop.

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

The main cast assembled in the parlor.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

I do admit I’m a sucker for a pelerine collar. And the only time a giant bonnet is remotely acceptable is when it’s paired by equally giant sleeves.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

The hair/wig design is also incredible

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

One of the many costumes worn by Gillian Anderson that is just spot-on perfect for the era.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

This velvet coat trimmed in brown fur has gotten a lot of attention in the promo photos I’ve seen so far. And understandably so, because it is fabulous.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

Another gown worn by Lucy Boynton that I was hoping to find better images of online, but sadly turned up empty-handed. You will just have to deal with the screenshot I was able to grab from the film.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

I love the sleeves!

So, about that one costume I mentioned above that deviated from the otherwise tightly-adhered-to date of 1830 is actually my favorite design in the film. It’s a black and white striped gown worn by Gillian Anderson, and I had to struggle to get clear screencaps of it, because of course no one is out there celebrating how absolutely fabulous this dress is. But it’s definitely more of an 1840s silhouette, with the pagoda sleeves not making an entrance into fashion until the very early 1840s.

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

The hat, the lacy collar, the whole look is amazing … But it’s pretty far fashion-forward for the rest of the film.

 

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

You don’t start to see the pagoda sleeves making an appearance until sleeves in general have migrated from all the fullness at the shoulders in the early-1830s down the arms and finally opening up to a bell shape in the early-1840s.

I can see a lot of similarities to this gown worn by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, painted in 1840:

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts, by an unknown painter, c. 1840. National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

 

Have you watched The Pale Blue Eye (2022)? What did you think of the costumes? Tell us in the comments!

26 Responses

  1. Nico

    The costumes were fabulous but I do wonder if middle-class women in a doctor’s household could afford such beautiful dresses in that period (I’m glad they did here for the eye candy).

    Reply
    • Mary

      I kind of got the impression that the Gillian Anderson character came from a society/monied family, so would have had additional resources and a taste for fabulosity in attire.

      Reply
  2. Boxermom

    I have a question about the ladies’ hair. Did they have hairpieces to augment these elaborate hairstyles? I don’t know very much about this era. Thanks! :)

    Reply
    • Christina

      So glad to have found this! I did find the overall newness/cleanliness of the appearance in the clothes a bit distracting especially the boys at the school. I know that military dress has specfic standards but surely there would have at least one muddy hem somewhere. Even Bale’s character had less wear and tear than I would have expected.
      Love that they included bonnets for the ladies though! Most movies set during this time don’t include enough bonnets for me but these made me happy.

      Reply
      • Christina

        Sorry—didn’t mean to make this a reply as it’s really more of a comment! Apologies for the mistake.

        Reply
    • A

      There is a scene in Balzac (I’m 95% sute it’s in The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans) where a lady was so upset by the news she received, that she forgot to put on her false braid.

      Reply
  3. Rhonda

    Loved the film and costumes. I will watch anything with Christian Bale. I thought it was interesting that Poe told Landor that he would write a poem about him someday. Poe didn’t write a poem but has a book called Landor’s Cottage.

    Reply
  4. Mary

    My retired Army and military historian husband was really impressed with the uniform details and accuracy. I was watching it, because Christian Bale, and he walked by and said ‘hey what’s that?’ so we started it over and both enjoyed it.

    Reply
  5. Harriet Langston Wagner

    I thought the costumes were all around great. The menswear is more understated, of course, but it was so beautifully done. I agree that this film should get some real recognition. Also, I am coming to believe that no one can work a crazy hat like Gillian Anderson!

    Reply
  6. Hastur

    I really loved the costumes, the fabrics and the actors, but in terms of “vintage fashion, not values” can we talk about how tired and outdated this plot felt? The rape and suicide of a blonde incident white girl so the male lead could have a saddy saddy backstory? The burning of the witch because yes, the inquisition was sort of right. Sigh. I really really hated that – luckily it all got explained TWICE, because Netflix thinks we’re extra stupid.

    Reply
    • Pam

      Ugh, this is what I hated about it the most. I really dislike “witches were real” story lines; it nearly always reads like a “both sides” negotiation certain people think they need to make with feminism. Witch hunts were real, and they were bad. Hot take, I know.

      And I literally can’t remember the rape victim speaking. She may have, but I sat through as much as possible and skipped to the end for my own sanity. I listened to enough guys in first year uni explain at me why they would totally defend people against assault, as long as it looked exactly like this one. And didn’t Poe marry a 13 year old? Love his poetry, but maybe placing him as the hero in a SA storyline makes it pretty obvious what the directors, producers, and writers think which assaults are “worthy”.

      Reply
      • Nzie

        I also dislike the witches are real storylines; it obscures the travesty of justice that took so many lives in so many places. It’s a real lesson in the importance of rule of law, not making exceptions in evidence rules, and the importance of protecting the rights for the accused. Unfortunately in my view this is not just the historical hangover effect, but is also currently being promoted by a few today as a way to increase their own social capital by claiming a connection which is completely ahistorical.

        Reply
        • Hastur

          Yes, exactly! Like superstition was the real reason for the witch hunts – and not a targeted political decision.

          And it’s even worse because the movie itself offered a really interesting alternative storyline, when Landor says something like: “the military breaks something in young men”. Which could have made for SUCH a great and fresh perspective on how we raise men and possibly toxic attitudes in military surroundings. But no, I guess it was easier to go this lazy storytelling way, with Bad Rapists, White Male Revenge and women who are either innocent blondes or crazy witches. And some pretty dresses to distract them from how insulting this plot really is.

          Reply
  7. Alexander

    The female costumes look totally A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! The first example, worn by the fabulous and gorgeous Gillian Anderson, totally knocked my socks off; the velvet, fur trimmed coat in the snow is also absolutely beautiful. I adore the insanity and theatricality of 1830’s women’s fashion and these look the best examples I’ve seen for a very long time – they have truly embraced the madness! I have always thought that female wear of this period is extremely feminine – in, of course, a very exaggerated and artificial manner – and have never fully understood why so many people hate it. If you are creating a bonnet than why not fully commit to A BONNET and go wild? This is certainly the period to do it in. Bring on the ringlets, top-knots and leg of mutton sleeves! I shall certainly give this film a watch, if not simply for the costumery goodness… although I am also a massive Poe fan.

    Reply
  8. M.E. Lawrence

    Oy, my least-favorite period for ladies’ costumes and hair, but so beautifully done, especially that black-and-white gown on Anderson. (Would rather wear the men’s wardrobe.) The whole movie sounds like a good winter’s watch.

    Reply
  9. Trish

    The costumes are fabulous but it seems to me the staff’s work is rather wasted because most scenes are so dim.

    Reply
  10. Mary

    My daughter and I hoped you would discuss this show. Early on, we were impressed that they not only did a good job on the women’s hair and dresses but the men’s hair was appropriately 1830s, too (at least the commandant’s, with its fluffy curls).

    Reply
    • Kat

      I also appreciated that even though Landor was clearly meant to be a more rough and tumble sort, he still made an effort to curl back his wisps (whatever the slightly longer pieces at the sides of his ears that weren’t sideburns would be called) when dining at the Doctor’s house; it’s a nice little nod that even the outside character understands the rules of society when he has to move about in it for his investigation.

      Reply
  11. SarahV

    Okay, these are all fabulous, and it makes me smirk how ornate and foppish even the military uniforms were, but I just really, really want that adorable embroidered camisole. I would have totally worn that as a top with jeans back when I was a college-age sylph.

    Reply
  12. Jennifer Schillig

    (Major spoiler, so read ahead at your peril.)

    Just watched this last night with a fellow history-and-lit-geek. (She’d read the novel long ago; I hadn’t.) I thought it was good for the most part, though its bleakness means I wouldn’t be in a hurry to watch it again. Harry Melling just NAILS it as Poe (did you know he’s also the grandson of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton?).

    But…well, usually, I don’t go through stories with a fine-toothed comb for historical accuracy, unless said accuracies are blatant, lazy, or for a shallow reason. I understand that sometimes writers have to take some liberties to make something work as a story. That’s why I can enjoy, say, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde as a great movie while acknowledging it’s nothing close to the real story. Or overlook that a climactic scene in Anne of the Thousand Days simply could not have happened…Henry never visited Anne in the Tower, and the marriage had been annulled by this point, so it never would have entered Anne’s mind that Elizabeth had a chance of being queen one day. But damn, didn’t it make a dramatically important scene?

    So I’m not always a stickler for inaccuracies as long as they don’t stick out too much. But this whole story goes up in a puff of historical accuracy when you consider that a major plot point turns on an innocent young woman…

    …in the 1830s…

    …the daughter of a devoted father who, as a former police constable, knows perfectly well what certain men are capable of…

    …would be allowed to walk from her home to a ball at nearby West Point, a gathering full of young men, and back again in the dead of night…

    …COMPLETELY ALONE, UNESCORTED, UNCHAPERONED.

    (As I said, I haven’t read the novel yet, so I don’t know if Louis Bayard addresses this point of nineteenth-century conduct.)

    Reply
  13. Wildflowerlady

    Just finished watching The Pale Blue Eye – pleased that I was able to pick the fashion setting before going to google! 1830s with some really interesting eye candy for gowns, bonnets, and hairstyles! But, why make a jump to an 1840s gown? It seems to me the designer would be aware it’s out of place. Any insight for that choice?

    Reply

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