I figured it was time I dust off my ol’ list of shitorical flicks and go for another round! As always, feel free to chime in with your top shit pics!
We tried to watch this show, honest, we really tried. The costumes came close-ish to actual historical clothing in the early 17th century, but the lack of hairpins, the weird accessories, and the ham-fisted way Feminism was inserted into every scene quickly turned us off. Yes folks, there is in fact a wrong way to address feminist topics in historical dramas, and this show is pretty much the gold standard in that regard. Listen to our podcast for all the reasons why it didn’t work.
There’s kind of a 2/3rds divide here at Frock Flicks over this show. Trystan has gone on the record saying she has a little soft spot for the soapy teenage drama about her favorite queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. Kendra and I, on the other hand, didn’t really appreciate the aesthetic of the show that was more modern couture than historical anything. Ultimately, whether you love it or hate it, Reign has a very loose interpretation of historical fact in favor of maximizing the teenage angst of a fictionalized young queen. I will point out that the costumes got somewhat better later in the series, but whether that was because of the outcry from history buffs, or because of a change in artistic direction, I’m not sure I can say either way.
Da Vinci’s Demons (2013-15)
This is one of those prime examples of the secondary characters and extras having more historically accurate costumes than the principles. I have no problems with the outfit worn by the lady holding the basket, other than she seems suspiciously well dressed for a trip to the market. Regardless, the bulk of this show was more contractually obligated leather pants, cold-shoulder bodices, and BDSM gear than anything remotely resembling late-15th-century Florence.
A Knight’s Tale (2001)
This film is beloved by most of my medieval reenactor friends because, allegedly, it represents the medieval tournament culture fairly accurately. I can’t comment because medieval tournament culture is not in the least bit one of my areas of research, but this argument is constantly put forth by so many different people I know who know better than I about this area of study, so there must be some validity to it. That said, literally everything else about the film infuriates the ever living snot out of me. Especially anything having to do with Lady Jocelyn, who is such a weak sauce character it’s insulting on its own. But then, as if to add insult to injury, she’s shown wearing the most ridiculously non-medieval costumes possible. It’s basically predicting shows like Reign where who cares if the lead female character is interesting or complex or wearing anything historical, just stick a lampshade on her head and call it good.
And before anyone points out that the soundtrack alone should leave no question about how historically accurate the film was attempting to be, I want to just say that there are many good examples of how to incorporate modern music into a historical film (Exhibit A: Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette). Yeah, yeah, A Knight’s Tale probably paved the way for that kind of modern/historical juxtaposition, but I still maintain that it could have been pulled off with more finesse than a cheap Brazilian wax.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
I’d say this is probably one of the best examples of a shitorical film, but one that ultimately is every bit as entertaining as it is atrociously a-historical. This used to be my Number One example of Worst Historical Movie Ever, but over the years I’ve mellowed a lot and upon re-watching it, aside from Kevin Costner’s desperate groping for an accent, any accent, it’s a fun, unchallenging flick. And it is 100% improved with Alan Rickman being so beautifully, scene-chewingly, mustache-twirly eeevil, that I really don’t care how mangled the history is, it’s just bubblegum for the eyes.
I happened upon a version of the Master of Ballantre on Youtube only to see Richard Thomas of The Waltons “acclaim” playing a Scot…had to double check IMDM. Also Timothy Dalton was it, the versatile B (?) actor, who can also play a Euro King (Mistress to the King). But Kevin Costner is right up there with Mel Gibson as my least favorite actors, especially playing roles requiring non-American accents…though Dalton is Welsh, so I excuse him, except as Rhett Butler…
I tried to watch Reign, and made it through two episodes before the lack of historical fashion turned me away. I can sit through The Tudors with no issue, but Reign pissed me off. Can we also talk about (or have we?) When Calls the Heart? Because the lack of hairpins and modern hairstyles and makeup starting in the second season made me walk away from the show and never look back.
Oh gosh yes. I watched All the episodes of WCTH, because…..I don’t know, but the HAIR and the CLOTHES. I mean, there is no way there was that much pristine whiteness in the shirtwaists in a MINING TOWN.
TBH, I liked Dalton’s turn as Rhett, but he is no Clark Gable, so…
I adore Timothy Dalton as Mr Rochester 😚😚
Knight’s Tale heroine was not only weak sauce but yawning boring as hell. The female blacksmith was tons more interesting and should have been the heroine.
It was enjoyable watching it with a lifelong SCadian, as she was a) willing to be tortured, and b) her horrified screams were entertaining.
The costumes and music in Knight’s Tale made me cringe (as a long-time SCAdian) but yes, the tournament culture is well portrayed.
I also indulged in The Tudors, some eps more than once…but cannot abide Reign, or The Spanish Queen or Sanditon…yet wanted to express mail them all some hairpins…
Oh hell yes! I’d watch THAT movie!
I gave Reign a try because of Megan Follows… but she was not enough to save it for me. I’m glad the costumes got… less bad? But the whole thing was soapy. Giving young, attractive actors soapy plots and roles is kind of the CW’s gig; I can only go so far with that. I didn’t quite get the whole ahistorical music thing when I caught some of Knight’s Tale on tv, so I noped out of that, too, but I’ve heard it’s fun.
There is definitely room for creative license, but I think it shows when there’s a thoughtful governing philosophy and when there isn’t. Jojo Rabbit is a wildly different film from most films set in WWII, but it totally works because it’s taking something real and portraying it as a child raised in that environment might see things. Also, despite having a Hitler character (an imagined version), it doesn’t feature actual historical persons, or really a lot of specific detail that we could check and find out is wrong, which is smart (eliminating the extraneous, allows for more escapism). If what a show runner really wants is the fanfic version of history, I wish they’d change the names. But would Reign have taken off if it weren’t all about that one queen everyone vaguely knows died kind of tragically? I have my doubts. So it probably won’t be the last of its kind.
I meant to say also, nothing wrong with liking any of these of course. Just don’t defend them as so accurate, which is what it seems a lot of people feel compelled to say on the press circuit, or else get defensive like art is above the real history.
I loved JoJo Rabbit, and you’re right, it’s very much a good example of how to make a “light hearted” period film about a dark subject while maintaining respect for the source material. A lot of what makes a “shitorical” film for me is when there’s really just no attempt to respect the history. At that point, make it a fantasy show about Marian, the young princess trapped in a foreign court in a far away land, who has to learn how to maneuver through political intrigue in order to survive and become queen one day. I’d watch the shit out of that film pitch. But instead, you get the gloss of “based on a true story/real people” with none of the history, because history is not sexy.
Reign tops (bottoms?) every list I can dream up.
Weirdly, people who know I am both history buff and sometime costumer tell me about “…this great series about Mary Queen of Scots that you would love…”
I smile politely and hope they don’t hear my teeth grinding.
I know that feeling, I’ve had people suggest it to me! What was worse is that it came out when I was in high school and a lot of girls I knew were watching it and urging me to watch it, “Because don’t you like history?”
Honestly, the thing with Costner’s accent never bothered me. It wasn’t accurate, sure, but it wasn’t technically any more inaccurate than anyone else’s was. Aside from the fact that most of the characters wouldn’t be speaking English, anyway, there is some fairly compelling evidence that what we consider an “English accent” is a pretty recent thing (in historical terms), anyway. I doubt a real person in England in 1194 sounded any more like Alan Rickman than they did like Costner.
My problem with the film was that no one seemed to quite know what the tone was supposed to be. Rickman went for comedy (and I think that was 100% the right choice), but everyone else seemed to be confused about how serious the whole thing was supposed to be, at it shows. Some scenes and characters seem to be serious, others seem to be comedic and overly hammy, and they don’t blend well at all. That said, I still watch it every time it is on the TV, because…. Alan Rickman.
Alan Rickman FTW! He made everything better.
I must admit, I was intrigued at first I saw the trailer for season 1 of Reign back in 2014/2015 and was like, “Oh, what an interesting looking fantasy series!” Until it got to the part where they revealed it was about Mary, Queen of Scots. Then I was displeased. Either completely fictionalize all the names and locations and maybe say in the interviews, “Oh, this was LOOSELY inspired by Mary, Queen of Scots” or try to do it more accurately. I don’t like the weird in-between.
Regarding Jamestown, I made it through ONE episode. I was a member of the Company of James Fort and did a lot of reenacting there, including the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, so I have a clue. The women’s clothing was heinous, with the exception of the servant girl. No hairpins, no chemise, no head coverings. It would have taken about 30 minutes of research to get it right. I’m sure my friends who work there were dying.
Dying of laughter, or dying of chagrin? Yeah, 10+ years in the 17th century made me gag. Didn’t get past the first ep. Would love to know what the ex thought of it.
It’s a shame because most of these shows/movies have pretty good concepts but they’re not executed well and it ruins it. I watched the first season of Reign on Netflix a few years ago but I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. The quality of the writing in addition to the quality of the costumes and sets was just too much for me.
We used to watch Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves over and over again. Let me be very clear, it was not for Kevin Costner.
I have to say Reign picked up for me as the seasons progressed. Season 1 was straight up couture and God Help Me! but by seasons 3 & 4 they were making a lot of the costumes in-house. It seemed like they adopted a few basic silhouettes and went kinda crazy with the modern fabrics. I appreciated that because it seemed to say “You, too, could go to the fabric store and then make this.” I liked the juxtaposition of historic silhouettes and modern fabric and I thought it was inspirational. I think they really hit their stride with Leeza’s season 4 costumes, some of them were to die for.
And Season 2 introduced Craig Parker, who deserves his own Man. Andy Monday. If you haven’t seen him in Spartacus, well…get ready!
It’s funny, I adored Prince of Thieves as a teenager, had it on video, but only in German, and watched the hell out of it. Loved Kevin Costner and hated Alan Rickman’s baddie. Fast forward 15 years, said video tape long gone, having since fallen in love Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood – and all his other swashbuckling movies. I was buying lots of my old favourites on DVD to revisit and did so with Prince of Thieves. In English. I cringed from beginning to end, the only relief being Alan Rickman. I gave the DVD away afterwards, I just can’t watch this anymore because so much about it is wrong or bad or whatever. Even Rickman can’t quite save it for me, nor the presence of Sean Connery at the end. There’s no other movie I loved so much as a teen that I find so embarrassing now. Yes, the Errol Flynn version has no more historical accuracy, it’s a complete fantasy – but done so beautifully in all it’s technicolor grandeur. This is how I’d imagine it to be when I read my first Robin Hood book (and before seeing Prince of Thieves), and I will happily stick with that. And yes, I admit I’d take Flynn over Costner any day these days, just based on his looks (I realise he wasn’t Mr. Nice Guy IRL).
I hauled out A Knight’s Tale the other day for background pap, and was shocked at how badly it held up. I’ve never minded the whole weirdy costume thing, it goes with the weirdy everything else, but OMG, Jocelyn tells him that if he loves her he won’t fight then watches him get increasingly injured while giggling. HOW IS THIS LOVE??? She’s a freaking psycopath. Made me want to vom. If she had had any real feminist ideals instead just being a Heathers-worthy mean girl, but no. B*TCH.
That sort of thing always annoyed me a lot in modern stories / movies, but I actually thought Jocelyn doing that was probably the most historically accurate thing about the movie.
If I recall my Brit Lit class correctly, ladies were supposed to set knights quests and tasks for them to prove their love and worthiness, part of the medieval concepts of chivalry and courtly love. My prof basically said that the knight was supposed to suffer, and ladies assigning tasks to their knights where they were like physically hurt was basically expected.
…in fact I just did a quick google, from the British Library (https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/love-and-chivalry-in-the-middle-ages#)
“Malory’s ideal of chivalry has love at its heart: ‘thy quarrel must come of thy lady’, he says, ‘and such love I call virtuous love’. Each knight is to fight for the sake of his lady; with his victories he earns her love, and defends her honour. He is absolutely loyal to her and will follow her every command, whatever happens – whether she sends him on an impossible quest, banishes him from her company, or stands accused of some terrible crime, in desperate need of his help. Here, tragedy enters the picture. Lancelot’s love of Guinevere can never have a happy ending, for she is King Arthur’s queen. This is the epitome of ‘courtly love’ in literature: a commitment which binds the lovers until their deaths, but is never fulfilled in happy union. Lancelot’s helpless devotion to Guinevere is dangerous, and it ultimately destroys the court: gossips and slanderers tell the king of their affair, and Arthur is forced to take up arms against his greatest knight.”
The way to enjoy, or at least tolerate, Reign is to see it as an Anne Shirley fever dream. When Megan Followes appeared I instantly reimagined it in this vein and boom, melodrama and terribly costumes (not to mention names, looking at you, Greer) became part of the Averil’s Atonement universe.
We loved and still love ‘A Knight’s Tale’, but I agree that Lady Jocelyn, at least as played, adds nothing to the story. As for the costumes, from the moment they began singing Queen at the first tournament and then danced to David Bowie, we didn’t exactly take it seriously. Just revelled in the jousting and Chaucer’s introductions.
I remember the first time I watched A Knight’s Tale, thinking that both the blacksmith and the lady-in-waiting to the princess were better acted (and more beautiful) than the princess herself. Also, turns out the lady-in-waiting was played by French star Berenice Bejo of The Artist.
Apparently Rickman was supposed to have a couple more scenes than he did, specifically he was meant to realise toward the end of the film that the witch had been lying about having magic power and was using secret tunnels to spy on people and threaten to kill her for it prompting her to confess she was his mother, but Costner realised Rickman was stealing the movie with his hammy acting and lobbied to have his screentime reduced.
So the film was almost more bonkers than it is. I think you can find the unused scenes on YouTube.
I love A Knight’s Tale crazy costumes and all. It’s not trying to be accurate and I get that and accept it. But I certainly can’t argue with anybody who is out off by it. Yes Jocelyn’s costumes are insane. Yes Kate the blacksmith is a wonderful character and personally I’m just as pleased she’s not the love interest.
Oh my god, I finally realized who Lady Jocelyn reminds me of in that first pic. Rufio from Hook.
Ref The Wedding Dance. Deep breath: taking a chance to invite comment from historically-informed Americans who won’t be offended. I’m one of the tutors for the Historical Dance Society (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL2Nky0GGl0Uao9hkMK7n2g or https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfbg_MTmCHmHoOLVTZcNXkw/videos) and I’m fed up with good films spoilt by final scenes of the couple waltzing on a lawn. Austen’s Mansfield Park, the movie, and Dickens’ Bleak House, the BBC serial, were both excellent in every way until the last 4 minutes. Suddenly all attempts at presenting the author’s insight, and recreating believable history, go down the drain in favour of Ginger-Rogers-style frocks and simpering support cast. (Maybe the glassy smiles means they’re trying not to laugh. Or throw up.) Colleagues tell me this is to make the films sell in USA, where ‘they’, poor things who don’t know about English history, expect a soppy wedding scene. This website proves you know more than we credit you with (sorry!). All comments welcome.