Tutankhamun (2016) Turns Archaeology Into a Love Story


I’ve been on an ancient history kick lately, which then segued into reading about Tutankhamun (2016) (currently available on Amazon Prime as The Mummy of Tutankhamun), an ITV miniseries about archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Overall, it’s an entertaining look at one of the most important archaeological discoveries EVER… even if it does turn the whole thing into a love story.

Max Irons stars as Carter, while Sam Neill is Lord Carnarvon, who funded Carter’s digs. Carter is the misunderstood, lone-wolf archaeologist who is dying to get his hands on the Valley of the Kings, even though everyone else has determined it has been tapped out for any new discoveries. World War I interrupts things, but they get back on track afterwards. Carter has a dalliance with a fictional American museum curator, but then is waylaid into a (fictional) affair with Carnarvon’s real life daughter, Lady Evelyn. The tomb is discovered, with little thanks to the many Egyptians who worked with Carter; the world is fascinated, but Carter only has eyes for Evelyn … making ME roll MY eyes, thinking of how thrilled the real life Carter would have been to have his work turned into a love story.

The costumes were designed by Diana Cilliers (Crusoe, Women in Love, The Red Tent, Roots, Troy: Fall of a City, Knightfall), and overall I give them a solid B. The men wear a lot of linen and cotton suits and work wear, but occasionally get dressed up in black tie:

Tutankhamun 2016

Carter wearing a super relaxed linen suit in town.

Tutankhamun 2016

Carter even spends some time in Egyptian robes.

Tutankhamun 2016

There’s a LOT of sleeves rolled up and suspenders…

2016 Tutankhamun

Lord Carnarvon is not doing any dirty work.

2016 Tutankhamun

And occasionally everyone looks spiffy!

The women’s wear showed a good understanding of the differences between pre-World War I and post-war fashion, with one notable exception:

Tutankhamun 2016

Some randos come to visit a dig in supposedly 1905, but the two rear women are wearing dresses that would be c. 1914 at the earliest.

Tutankhamun 2016

It’s the full skirts, in particular, that don’t work for 1905.

Tutankhamun 2016

Lady Carnarvon looks more period-appropriate in her driving coat with beautiful embroidery.

Tutankhamun 2016

Museum curator “Maggie” wearing a decent 1910s evening gown.

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She’s in a nautical, suit-y look to visit Carter on a dig.

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I really wanted to see more of this evening gown, which looks made from a sari, at least in part.

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The skirt draping, the headdress, and the tassel necklace all work for that 1910s Orientalist vibe.

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A suit-y look for traveling.

Tutankhamun 2016

Lady Evelyn is introduced in a lovely bead embroidered dress, although I have many questions about her hair.

Tutankhamun 2016

This dress, however, is straight out of Talbot’s.

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A nice sailor suit look on young Evelyn.

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Post-war, early 1920s, the ladies have all bobbed their hair and the silhouette becomes much more relaxed.

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Grown-up Evelyn wears blouses, pants, and cardigans.

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I’m okay with the hair length, given it’s the 1920s, but why does it look like it’s styled for prom?

Tutankhamun 2016


Tutankhamun 2016

She’s wearing jodhpurs, which are great, and the print on the scarf is fabulous.

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Hey, even her hair is styled appropriately in a low bun!

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Evelyn gets down and dirty, with the outfit to prove it.

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Wearing a very “ethnic” shawl … (why is Carter wearing suspenders AND a belt?)



What do you think of Tutankhamun‘s costumes and story?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

17 Responses

  1. Nzie

    Ooh, between my undying love of Sam Neill and this being one of my favorite clothing eras (I suppose technically more than one era but I’m pretty happy anything not huge sleeves from late 1890s up to the part of the 20s that is shapeless because that’s just not super flattering on most grown and/or not super thin women), I may have to give this a watch. (And possibly do penance for that parenthetical lol.)

    Is suspenders + belt the back lacing on a front opening dress equivalent for men?

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m going to have to watch it again as all I can remember is that I enjoyed it and felt the nonexistent romance with Lady Evelyn was a bit contrived.

  3. Jillian

    I might have to check this out. I’m an admirer of Catherine Steadman, she’s done some great, and not so great (The Tudors), period works.

  4. susan l eiffert

    The costumer had some real hits here, didn’t she? But when she missed, she missed stupidly imo. That rather Arts and Crafts beaded shirtwaist was very cool (that’s my period!) and spot on! Ok the hair: what was with that 1860 center part with ringlets (your Why?). Why do these stylists keep getting the hair so very wrong just all the time.?? Both ruin a film for me…

  5. Author Jennifer Quail

    All I can think with that sailor suit neckline and the sleeveless blue is “even with a hat she’s going to be roasted tomato-red.” I wore a hat in Greece but up on the Acropolis, which is bare rock like this, in bright sunlight, with a scoop-neck t-shirt I wound up toasted from the reflected light. Egypt would be exponentially worse.

    • Roxana

      Yes, bare arms are a serious mistake. There’s a reason why the natives wear loose all covering robes.

    • nesseire

      I was in Tunisia, and in the desert you cover up, no jokes. The people who didn´t wear long sleeves and pants got burned seriously in less than 30 min (and most of us were from Mediterranean countries, I mean, we got tanned in the sun, but still). We ended covering our faces too, because the sand was like a mirror with the sunlight.

  6. susan l eiffert

    PS: Haven’t seen the film yet, but with the enormity of the Tut find and worldwide attention that was still thrilling people 30 years later when I was born and led me to nearly become an archaeologist, you’d think that the drama of the search and discovery itself as well as the personalities of Carter and Carnarvon would have been enough for a gripping film without the silly romances. Apologies for the run on sentence. I became an English major instead.

  7. mmcquown

    Over all, I was pretty OK with it, but I could have used less romance and more about the adminitrivia struggle with the Egyptian government. What nobody explains is how the mummy eventually ended up in the British Museum.

    • Teresa

      Tutankhamun’s mummy? It was left in his tomb for decades, inside the original outermost coffin. He was even x-rayed in there.
      Screenwriters and movie producers can’t comprehend the idea that a man and a woman can socialize or work together without a romance blossoming, especially if they are both young and reasonably attractive. And if Lord C. had not had a daughter, they would have invented one. I agree that this is a silly and unnecessary plot device.
      Finally, about those bare arms. Yes, it’s dumb (and culturally insensitive) to dress like that in Egypt. But people do–I’ve seen plenty of doltish, sunburned tourists in Egypt. I’ve even seen them staring at properly dressed members of a field project (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, hats). I heard one young archaeologist mutter out of the side of her mouth at a particularly egregious example, “For God’s sake put some clothes on!” On the other hand, would Lady Evelyn have worn a dress like that in 1922-23? That question popped into my mind as soon as I saw the photo.

  8. Roxana

    I could do without the imaginary love interests. What about all the conflict with the Egyptian authorities? That was pretty dramatic!

  9. archaeoptics

    Is the belt with the suspenders perhaps a gun belt? His pants clearly belt loops, with no belt!

  10. Frannie Germeshausen

    Those late teens dresses in the wrong era can be the right garments in my closet right now . . . many things to want, but, yeah, spaniel ringlets are NOT NOT NOT a 20s thing.

    • Constance

      I found this on Prime last week…enjoyed it. Though thus movie was not as bad as most, I am so tired of loose hair on women…just feel like bitching about this lol. Starting to like Max Irons more…though his dad still rules for me.

  11. Terry Towels

    Suspenders to hold the pants up; belt to hold tools and gun (ht/ archeoptics). Putting tools in pockets leave BIG holes.

  12. M.E. Lawrence

    1900-1920 is my favorite period for women’s dresses. The rolled-up sleeves and braces (not suspenders, or Brits will give you funny looks, as suspenders are frequently garters, but not always*) are also such an attractive look on men.

    *No, I don’t understand these distinctions, but I know they exist, having embarrassed myself sometimes when I said “suspenders” and “pants” in the wrong context: http://hespokestyle.com/mens-style-advice/braces-suspenders-difference/