Top Five Movies I Don’t Want to Watch but They Have Great Costumes


I’ve already whined about my endless list of movies I plan to watch — but there’s also a shorter list of frock flicks I am intrigued by but can’t commit to adding to my queue. Pictures from these historical costume movies keep showing up, and they look GORGEOUS. But when I investigate the films themselves, I’m underwhelmed. Also, some of these movies are simply hard to find; maybe they don’t exist on streaming services, or the DVDs are out of print. It all smacks of effort.

Can you convince me to suck it up and watch one of these? Are the pretty costumes worth my time? Do tell!


Death in Venice (1971)

Death in Venice (1971)

Costumes by Piero Tosi. Pros: Oscar-nominated costumes by Piero Tosi, including stunning 1910s gowns for women in a story primarily about a man’s obsession with a younger man (+1 for artsy homoeroticism). Cons: It’s literally all about a man staring at a younger man.

Death in Venice (1971)

OMG, the inside of that parasol! Those hats!

Death in Venice (1971)

So elegant.


Goya’s Ghosts (2006)

Goya's Ghosts (2006)

Costumes by Yvonne Blake. Pros: 1790s-1800s costumes made wildly interesting! Apparently no little white dresses! I’ve been obsessed by this lavender embroidered jacket for ages. Cons: Reviews say “glacial pace and confused plot.”

Goya's Ghosts (2006)

The collars are so pointy, the embroidery is so twee.

Goya's Ghosts (2006)

Maybe there’s sewing content in the background? IDK.


Swann in Love (1984)

Swann in Love (1984)

Costumes by Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle. Pros: Jeremy Irons in his prime, love him! Set in 1880s Paris and chock full of elegant bustles, pretty much my fave era after 16th century. Cons: Based on a Proust novella, bleh. [Kendra’s note: yeah, it’s gorgeous, but as I said in my mini-review, you’ll want to throw a shoe at both of the main characters]

Swann in Love (1984)

It looks like a painting come to life.

Jeremy Irons, Swann in Love (1984)

He is so very yummy.


L’Innocente (1976)

L'Innocente (1976)

Costumes by Piero Tosi. Pros: Anything Piero Tosi and Tirelli Costumi touches is golden! The 1890s gowns in this film are mouth-wateringly beautiful and look like museum replicas. Cons: The story sounds like a standard-issue romantic triangle.

L'Innocente (1976)

This will be Kendra & me, oh yes, it will happen.

L'Innocente (1976)

It’s like a trademark Frock Flicks gown!


Madame Bovary (1991)

Madame Bovary (1991)

Costumes by Corinne Jorry. Pros: Costumes look moody and goth as fuck, totally a hand-staple-forehead twist on mid-Victorian, yet not cliche all-black (yeah, that works for me). Cons: I seriously HATE the Flaubert novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary (1991)

Can I see more of this please?

Add black hair, and this is me at every costumed event.



OK, are any of these frock flicks worth a full review? Opinions?

38 Responses

  1. thedementedfairy

    Yeah I’m with you here- they all sound so deathly dull you might just as well stick to the stills. I never throw my shoes at anything, I LOVE MY SHOES…I’ll have to fling poop instead, if that’s OK?

  2. picasso Manu

    Death in Venice: Truly depends on how depressed you are at the time. If you’re feeling even slightly down, you’re likely to jump off the nearest bridge when it ends. Must have kleenex and emergency chocolate on hand…. Un amour de Swann is like a Sargent painting come to life. Unfortunately, I think it’s also one of Proust’s worst books, if one of the better known (must be because it’s one of the shortest, and most people who have “read Proust” stopped there.) … And last, Madame Bovary: the film took itself very seriously, and completely misses the underlying sarcasm Flaubert put in the book. To be honest, I’m not sure Flaubert can be translated in films, so there’s that.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yeah, some books are just too difficult to translate into film! (Tho’ I tried to read Flaubert & didn’t like the novel either, heh.)

      • Roxana

        I had to read Madam Bovary in school. My take away was that Madame was a waste of oxygen. I kind of think Flaubert agreed. He was clearly deconstructing popular romanticism.

  3. minette

    Goya’s ghosts is… Depressing, to say the least. Female lead does nothing but suffer, Javier Bardem is as sleazy as only he can manage to be and there’s in fact not that much Goya! It’s kind of slow paced, but not really all that boring, the bigger issue is how unnecessary dark and downer the whole plot is. Also, it includes a scenes of sexual assault leading to… Rape? Yeah, I think it’s fair to call it that. So if anyone hates watching scenes like that (I fucking do!) consider this a trigger warning.

  4. Andrew Schroeder

    The second image you posted for L’Innocente is actually from Ludwig, which is worth watching although it’s like 700 hours long.

      • Andrew Schroeder

        If you’re into suppressed mentally unstable homosexuals brooding through successive tableaux in various Bavarian castles then go for it. Sisi pops up every 20 or so minutes in some killer gowns.

        Also if you watch the actors’ lips when they’re talking, it appears most of them spoke their lines in English, which was then dubbed over in Italian, and the original English track doesn’t seem to be available.

        And no boy butts. In a 1970’s European film. What.

        • minette

          I thought you are talking about the newer German biopic staring Sabin Tambrea, but NWM. That one sadly doesn’t get as much love and appreciation as it should. I don’t want to question quality of the Visconti version, I haven’t seen that one and only heard it’s good (and very artsy).

          • Andrew Schroeder

            I skimmed the newer one on Youtube (no subtitles so couldn’t understand what they were saying but got the gist) and the costumes were not very good.

  5. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    Death in Venice is a shitty film. I saw it once and hated almost everything about it except the costuming. If you ever want to see a film where the women’s hats are so stunning they steal the scene every single time, stabbing everything else on the screen repeatedly into bloody submission with their long hatpins, simply by the power of existing, then this is that film.

    • Susan Eiffert

      Daniel et al, I loved D i V when I was an impressionable 18-ish college student. Beaux Arts, beauty, illness, death, obsession, textiles! But most importantly, yours is my great uncle’s name! (minus Cottam)
      His bro my grandfather was John Milford from Belfast. Very cool. Maybe we are cousins!

      • Daniel Milford-Cottam

        It’s not impossible! Milford-Cottam is a pretty old double-barrel, going back to the 1800s as far as I’m aware, but yes, most Cottams do seem to be somehow connected, and the Milford bit comes directly from Milford Haven in Wales, so if there’s any Welsh on your side, then it’s entirely possible that we are connected.

  6. Carmen Beaudry

    These sound like something I would “watch” during a cutting marathon, since I don’t want anything I have to pay a lot of attention.

  7. elizacameron

    I loved Swann in Love but then I saw at the Barbican when I was in college during the height of my love for Jeremy Irons so there you go. And I too hate the novel Madame Bovary with a passion. I haven’t seen the Isabelle Hupert movie, but I have seen the last TV version with Frances O’Connor, Greg Wise, Hugh Dancy and Hugh Bonneville and I still hated Madame Bovary. She’s just one of those characters like Hedda Gabler that make me rage.

  8. jane gardiner

    the last one not seen, but it’s Isabelle Huppert – surely worth a watch on that basis alone ? (and I am looking up where I can see it for myself). My mother was obsessed by Death In Venice for most of my teenage years – yeah, that was fun. There may have been mental health issues involved . . . . .on the plus side, the music is absolutely gorgeous – and this comes from someone who generally greatly dislikes classical music !

    • Trystan L. Bass

      The reviews for Death in Venice rave about the music, apparently it’s a big deal in how the director used it symbolically blah blah blah I’m so bored now just show me the pretty clothes!

  9. Susan Pola Staples

    I agree with everyone else’s assessment, but seriously, does ANYONE like Madame Bovary?
    I abhor it, even the Francesca Annis version and I lurve her work. Emma is a twit.

    • winhild

      I do! I like Madame Bovary, and I love Emma. It always makes me think how her life will go in our time. She is artistic, she would become a designer (of clothes or interiors, whatever) and would be not so obsessed with romance.
      Haven’t seen the one with Francesca Annis though, my favourite is Frances O’Connor.

  10. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I watched L’Innocente one night in college. how can I describe this movie? Well, none of the main characters are likeable. Seriously, I wanted to smack all of them hard. The male lead is a debauched Roman “ARISTOCRAT” who is perfectly fine with living publicly with his mistress, but is shocked to discover that his neglected wife takes a lover of her own.
    The costumes are eatable like little amuse bouche of fashion. There is oddles of bed hopping so hair is down or in the act of tumbling down, apparently they were at the beginning of the great hairpin shortage. The christening gown that Tosi created was a confection of navy blue and white ruffles. My big quibble is several of the older woman in the background a wearing what appears to be modified gabled hoods with tulle thrown over them.
    The ending is a typical Cinema styled ending where everyone ends up getting what the want in the most miserable way possible. After a night of underaged drinking and playing D&D, this movie made me hate life a little.

    • Peacoclaur

      L’Innocente is on YouTube (with English subtitles) for anyone curious or masochistic enough. That’s two hours of my life I won’t get back. But like all Visconti period films it is nice to look at.

      • Lady Hermina De Pagan

        I lived literally across the street from Canada in College, so I would stumble in from either our weekly D&D game or a party, and watch all these movies of woman crying in other languages. There was one where a guy named Claude destroys two women’s lives, another was a Spanish sex farce where a girl loses her virginity in a dream(don’t ask I still haven’t figured it out) and of course Au Revior les Enfants. My roommate and I would make ramen noodles and scream at the T.V. Fond memories

  11. Penny H

    I saw Madame Bovary when it came out in the theaters, and I could not get past the casting against type of Isabelle Huppert, who looks nothing like Emma Bovary. Don’t hate the novel, even though all the characters who aren’t obnoxious are pitiable (poor charbovari), because Flaubert could write, and because we are given intriguing glimpses into 19th century provincial life. But I read it in French, and maybe the translations don’t work.

    Saw Death in Venice in the theater at the time and must have been underwhelmed because I remember almost nothing about it; all I retain is a vague impression it’s not something I would gladly watch again.

  12. Alba

    Goya’s Ghost is pretty bad as a movie. The costumes are good enough. But it’s not worth anyone’s time or energy to watch it.

  13. phlegmfatale

    Good call on not seeing “Goya’s Ghosts” — I picked it up in a $1 bin at the dollar store, and ended up feeling I had overpaid for the DVD. Yuck. I felt slightly guilty about sending it in a bag of stuff to the charity shop, because that’s only going to share the misery and cause the waste of yet more money, but I also didn’t want to send it to a landfill. It was a dilemma.

    Also, I saw the execrable 1991 “Madame Bovary” in the cinema, and despite the moody cinematography and the mouth-watering costumes, she was utterly unsympathetic. I laughed out loud in the theatre when she choked up the tarry black goo at the end. Even the superb Isabelle Huppert couldn’t save it.

  14. Annelies

    I’ve seen Ghoya’s ghosts and it’s not very cheerful, I remember feeling terribly sad and gross after watching it. But that jacket is beautiful!

  15. Liz

    I saw the 1991 Madame Bovary in theaters with my AP English class after reading the (truly godawful) novel. I wouldn’t wish either on an enemy, let alone a friend.

    But yes, pretty pretty costumes.

  16. Joe

    Personally, when I watch “Swann in Love” I obsess over Ornella Muti (zowie!) and Fanny Ardant in those gorgeous Belle Epoque gowns – Muti’s Edwardian outfit in the closing scene is one of my favorite movie costumes ever, in fact I have a picture of it as my iPhone wallpaper – and ignore the dull, temporally (and otherwise) confusing, angsty (excessive angst irks me) story. Jeremy Irons is great, but I have a hard time getting emotionally engaged in his longing for someone who might or might not be worth all the angst.

    “L’Innocente” is another gorgeously designed movie with gorgeous Belle Epoque (Italian version) dresses on gorgeous women (Laura Antonelli, RIP, and Jennifer O’Neill), but the story – at the outset, as you noted, a pretty standard romantic triangle – takes a truly horrifying twist late on – no spoilers, but let’s just say you’ll think that Giancarlo Giannini’s character has whatever he gets coming to him – that pretty much wrecks it for me to the extent that I literally can’t bear to watch the last half-hour or so. For watching Laura swan about in Edwardian costumes, “Till Marriage Do Us Part” (my favorite of all her movies) is a LOT more fun, though it’s one of those movies that makes me wonder why non-porn filmmakers are so skittish about displaying split-crotch drawers. Watch the scene where Antonelli’s ultra-sexually-frustrated Eugenia finally gets it on with her hunky, if bath-challenged, chauffeur (Michele Placido) and you’ll see what I mean.

  17. phlegmfatale

    It wasn’t period at the time, and the film is rathet cringey, but the Cerruti 1881 wardrobe in the 70s film “The Story of O” is superb.