Top Five Mothers in Historical Costume Movies


Mother’s Day is this weekend, and no matter your relationship with your own mom, you can’t deny that historical costume movies and TV shows have given us some fantastic mothers. They range from sweet and caring to hilariously melodramatic, just like moms in the real world. Well, maybe not just like… Anyway, let’s look at some mothers in historical costume movies and TV series!


5) Caroline Ingalls  in Little House on the Prairie (Karen Grassle)

Caroline Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie (Karen Grassle)

The hardest working mom in fiction (especially since she’s based on a real person), Ma is no nonsense, but kind and has her family’s best interests at heart.


4) Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (Alison Steadman)

1995 Pride and Prejudice

“You don’t know how I suffer!” She’s a whirlwind of ruffled caps and recriminations, Mrs. Bennett is a shallow bundle of nerves. It’s great fun to watch, but if she were my mom, I’d run away from home.

Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (Alison Steadman)


3) Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews)

1965 The Sound of Music

The all-singing, all-dancing, governess-turned-stepmom! She can teach you to sing scales and make you new clothes out of the curtains, all while running away from Nazis! What can’t this mom do?

Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews)


2) Gertrude in Hamlet (Glenn Close)

1990 Hamlet

HAMLET (1990)

Putting the Oedipal in Oedipal Complex, Gertrude’s relationship with her son is, um, complicated. Close’s version is pretty glam for the middle ages, making the attraction in Shakespeare’s text more obvious.


1) Marmee in Little Women (Susan Sarandon)

Little Women (Susan Sarandon) 1994

This Victorian mother tops my list because she’s the idealized mom from Alcott’s novel, but as portrayed by Sarandon, she’s also a liberal firebrand. Which takes more from Lousia May Alcott’s real life than the book (and the actress too), but it reminds me of my own mom even more!


Are you watching any historical costume movies or TV shows for Mother’s Day?

19 Responses

  1. Mari

    I loved Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls. I wish she had continued acting after the Little House on the Prairie ended.

  2. Susan Pola

    Does Joan Crawford count in Mommy Dearest in the worst mother category?

    But I include Dame Judi as Queen Vic, Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Grantham, Dame Maggie as Violet Grantham, Dame (?) Annette Crosbie as Queen Victoria in Edward the King, Janet Suzman as Alexandra Feodorovna in Nicholas & Alexandra and Claudie Blakely in Lark Rise to Candleford.

    • Liutgard

      Annette Crosbie is indeed wonderful! I love her as Victoria! Loved her as Catherine of Aragon too!

      • Susan Pola

        Same here. She had the steeliness of Catherine down to a ‘T’, but also her love for Mary, her actions safeguarding Mary and the intelligence of a Queen.

      • MoHub

        And she was great in One Foot in the Grave although that series was contemporary.

  3. Penny H

    Maybe you don’t want to be their child (or be ahead of their child in the line of succession):
    Claire Bloom as Lady Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited.
    Sian Phillips as Livia in I Claudius.

    • Janette

      Not so easy to find these days but Sian Phillips played a rather different kind of mother well in the BBC How Green Was My Valley.

  4. MoHub

    Eleanor of Acquitaine in The Lion in Winter. If one can have Mrs. Bennett, one has to have Eleanor.

  5. Susan Pola

    They balance it out. Mrs Bennett is scatterbrained, suffers from foot in mouth disease, is totally wrong about everything. Eleanor of Aquitaine is highly intelligent, politic and polite, and is almost right about everything. She balanced Henry II out. He had his rages. The Angevins were famous, er, infamous, both for their temperament and rages.
    Besides Anne of Brittany who was Queen of France twice, Eleanor is the only woman who was both queen of France and England.
    Patron of the arts, courtly love, troubadours, etc.
    She deserves her own miniseries.

    • Liutgard

      YES!!! But!

      1) Who to produce? Please, no American companies! Not History Channel or something horrible like that! Straight up BBC would do nicely.

      2) Who to write? We know her basic story, but honestly, there has been some terrible ‘historical fiction’ written about her. Some of it written by noted authors. (*koff* not going to mention the name but she has written a fair amount of English royal historical fiction, it’s just that her style drives me nuts.) And then someone would have to write a screenplay. Emma Thompson did a lovely screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, but she had Austen to work from. We can’t expect that for source material.

      And 3) Who would play Eleanor? We’d probably need more than one actress, as she was active and important for a very, very long time. Fairly tall for her time, dark hair and eyes, strong nose, striking features. Actually, in my mind’s eye, she would look very like Glenn Close. Though not so fair. (The red gold hair and blue eyes came from Henry’s side.)

      My oldest would make a fine Eleanor, but she is already 30. And too busy with my new grandson and chasing a white belt to be interested anyway. :-)

      • Susan Pola

        I don’t know, but I really detest *cough* P Gregory’s books. What about Jane Campion as writer/director. She did a marvellous job on The Piano. Cast would probably be unknowns for early years. Maybe either Meryl or Glenn for middle and later years.

        • MoHub

          Eleanor made it to her early 80s, outliving all but one of her sons. Who would portray her during the Richard and John reigns? Maybe Dame Maggie? At any rate, I’d hate to see an actress in her 60s weighed down with a ton of putty.