Support Frock Flicks with a small donation! During Snark Week and beyond, we’d be grateful for small, one-time contributions via PayPal or monthly pledges via Patreon to offset the costs of running this site. You can even buy our T-shirts and swag. Think of this like supporting public broadcasting, but you get more swearing and no tax deductions!
It’s convenient that it’s Snark Week, because what better time for A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel to start airing the BBC’s 2016 adaptation of War and Peace? The first episode aired a few days ago here in the States (and, for once, we’re only a few weeks behind British TV! YAY!), and there’s some good … but there’s also some bad and some very, very ugly. We’ll be recapping each of the six episodes, focusing on the costumes, praising what needs to be praised and snarking where it’s required.
First, the small bit of background I’ve been able to track down about the costuming (designed by Edward K. Gibbon) in the press:
Glamour: You didn’t have to wear a corset in War and Peace, right?
Lily: No, which is a big relief! Ed Gibbon, who was the costume designer for War and Peace, was incredible. He made it really Russian and truthful to the period, but he also was courageous enough to throw it away — we didn’t wear corsets, and he used bright colors. The team in Lithuania, the seamstresses, were incredible. The costumes fit like gloves and were hand made. We had incredible jewelry as well. I wore this tiara that Pyotr Aksyonov — he’s a Russian jewelry designer, and his jewelry shop is in Moscow — and it’s based on or is true to what the Rostov’s house would have been like. The world that they created was really beautiful and vivid. Lily James on Why Everyone Should Read War and Peace, Downton Abbey’s Final Season, and Meeting the Royal Family
‘We cover so many years,’ Gibbon explains. ‘It starts off with the characters looking towards Europe, so it’s very French and Regency, with simple designs and lots of white. Then, throughout the story, they rediscover their culture, and by the end the style is more peasanty – it’s all about being on the land. The main thing for me was that it’s not an English story, it’s – it’s this vibrant, exotic world. They loved crazy colour combinations, for example, so it was really important to get those influences in.’ War and Peace: on the set of the BBC’s epic Tolstoy adaptation
With that in mind, let’s do this!
We get the party started with Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna Scherer going to crazytown in a ONE-SHOULDERED, lavender ballgown that’s a satin undergown with a sheer, georgette drape. If anyone has seen ANYTHING like this before 1950, do get in touch.
Listen, all you reviewers praising the “lavish styles popular in the mid 1800s, such as heavily embellished empire-line dresses topped off with lashings of pearls and tiaras” (7 most stylish costume dramas that defined British TV) and the “gorgeous” costumes (War and Peace is a hit. But Britain can’t keep living in the past). THIS ISN’T WHAT 1800s WOMENSWEAR LOOKS LIKE.
Ahem. Onwards. Bridesmaid-of-the-Week Scherer is hanging with Prince Vassily Kuragin (Stephen Rea) who we quickly learn is a jerk when Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskaya (Rebecca Front, the comic Mrs. Bennett from Death Comes to Pemberley and the genius behind my new favorite show, Psychobitches) tries to suck up to him on behalf of her (son? nephew?) Boris aka Frodo. Drubetskaya’s dress is suspiciously frumpy, with a weird, built-in-looking lace fichu and strange overlap on the bodice front:
Enter bumbling Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) who is out of place amidst all the uniforms and gold braid:
Compare Pierre with Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Death Comes to Pemberley, but who I most recently saw play a dirtbag murderer on modern-set Happy Valley, so I am suspicious of him). He’s not in uniform, but he’s MANLY, which you can tell by his fabulously high-collared waistcoat and noble gaze:
We also meet Pierre’s relatives, the Evil Wonder Twins Helene and Anatole Kuragin. We can tell they’re evil, because Helene is showing 1930s-evening-gown levels of skin, and Anatole is doing the douchebag lounge.
Andrei’s wife, Lise, is there too, looking much more appropriately dressed (as are her compatriots):
She’s also got nice hair:
And a nice outdoor cloak:
The ball is taking place here, which, YES:
Andrei ditches the wife for some Man Time with Pierre, during which Pierre vows to stop hanging out with fratboy losers.
And then goes to hang out with Douchebag Anatole and his loser fratboy friends who, like, party hard:
The next morning, Pierre wakes up with a wicked hangover and Prince Kuragin lecturing him about what a poor, sad loser he is. Oh, and get up, because your father is dying.
Helene wanders by (I guess they all live together?) in her nightie and robe. It’s good thing it never gets cold in DRAFTY PALACES, because otherwise Helene might die of hypothermia in that sheer robe with ineffective fur trimming.
En route to Dad’s House, we learn that Pierre is a bastard (not, like, a jerk — but an illegitimate child). Prince Kuragin helpfully lectures him about not expecting too many rubles from dad.
In Moscow, we meet the Rostov family and their guests, including Historical Manic Pixie Dream Girl Natasha (Lily James of Downton Abbey, Cinderella, and just about every current and forthcoming historical production in existence). HER WIG IS TRAGIC:
She’s wearing a highly questionable print dress — when have you ever seen that bright of a turquoise before 1965? — with an evening neckline and sleeves to boot.
There’s poor relation Sonya (Aisling Loftus of Mr. Selfridge), who doesn’t really have a handle on print-mixing:
Older brother Nikolai (Jack Lowden of Wolf Hall) who’s hanging with Frodo:
Guest Julie Karegina (Chloe Pirrie of An Inspector Calls) whose dressmaker apparently doesn’t know where her underbust is:
Mom Countess Natalia (Greta Scacchi of Daniel Deronda, Emma, and Jefferson in Paris), younger son Petya who will soon annoy me if the 2007 version is any guide, and the previously introduced (and now better dressed) Drubetskaya.
And wacky dad Count Ilya (Adrian Edmondson of Miss Austen Regrets):
We learn that Nikolai and Sonya are in lurve, and I think it’s supposed to be on the down-low but if so, they are very obvious about it. Natasha kisses Frodo and teases him about being engaged (I hope?).
Pierre visits the Rostovs. On his way he stops to pet the pigs, which is a point in his favor.
Then the Rostovs and Pierre are off to a dance, as Pierre avoids his dying father. Natasha and Sonya wear coordinating dotted Swiss (question: is that a period fabric?) dresses, which read as country bumpkin to me, and I doubt that’s the desired effect? Maybe they’re just supposed to look young? Whatever, their seamstresses also couldn’t find their underbust points:
Natasha and Frodo are having SO MUCH FUN:
Meanwhile, chez Prince Bezukhov (Pierre’s dad), dad is dying and Prince Kuragin is scheming with Fenella Woolgar (who excels at playing snooty British aristos in things like Stage Beauty, Bright Young Things, and The Way We Live Now) to make sure that the prince’s latest will (leaving everything to Pierre) is destroyed.
Luckily Drubetskaya marches Pierre over to his father’s house just before dad dies, AND manages to snatch the will away from the scheming Kuragins. Pierre wins!
Andrei is emo because his wife LOVES him (I don’t mean love, I mean you-best-believe-I’m-in-LOVE-L-O-V-E), so he’s decided to join the war against the French. Logic! He brings his pregnant wife to stay with his father and sister.
Sister Marya seems very sweet, although her black sheer chemisette is just plain weird.
Andrei is ready for some away-from-the-wife action, but Lise is NOT DOWN:
Back at the Rostov’s … it’s a new day, Nikolai is headed off to war, but almost everyone is wearing the exact same outfit:
And the family sees him off:
Off at The War — in Austria — Andrei meets up with General Kutuzov (Brian Cox of Deadwood and The Affair of the Necklace).
There’s a lot of manly men in uniforms:
Back in Russia, Natasha takes a bath but doesn’t want to get her wig wet, Sonya misses Nikolai, and Natasha realizes she’s not that into Frodo.
Prince Kuragin shows Pierre his domain, which Pierre is very uncertain about having inherited (it’s all too much luxury for one person, he feels):
And we find out that the Evil Wonder Twins are VERY CLOSE. Apparently the filmmakers have never heard of the Westermarck effect, “through which people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to sexual attraction” (Wikipedia; sorry, I wasn’t going to work too hard at this). Helene tells Douchebag that their father wants to marry them off, her to Pierre and him to Andrei’s sister.
Pierre goes to a party where Bridesmaid-of-the-Week informs him that all the ladies have to chase HIM now. She’s better dressed in that her dress is actually symmetrical, but I sincerely question the back.
Then she promptly marches him over to Helene, who is dressed in GOD KNOWS WHAT:
Back at the war…
Back in Russia … Prince Kuragin and Bridesmaid-of-the-Week plot to get Helene and Pierre married, by taking them ice skating:
Shockingly, Helene wears an outfit I like!
Later, Helene and Pierre play cards, and Helene goes back into WTF wardrobe territory in a DEVORE VELVET (a fabric developed, at the earliest, in the late 19th century) dress:
Pierre has a nightmare about Helene seducing him:
And Prince Kuragin end-runs around Pierre by just announcing his and Helene’s engagement. Helene apparently wants to be the next Bridesmaid Barbie, because she follows Bridesmaid-of-the-Week’s model in wearing a one-shouldered white dress with a random gold strap on the other shoulder:
And some rando at the dinner hops on the backless dress train:
I live in anticipation of the delights of episode 2!
Have you watched War & Peace episode 1 yet? Can you explain any of this?