War & Peace (2016) Recap, Ep. 1: The Good, Bad, and VERY Ugly


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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.

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What the WHAT?

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Who doesn’t love a little anachronistic armpit cleavage?

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.

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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:

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Meet Frodo! He just needs a leg up after that whole One Ring fiasco!

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Enter bumbling Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) who is out of place amidst all the uniforms and gold braid:

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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:

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But he may be a psychopath. Watch out.

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.

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It’s not just her skin — Helene is 1930s to a T, from her diadem to her drapey evening dress. It’s pretty, but it ain’t Regency!

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They went Grecian in this era, but they didn’t go GRECIAN.

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Andrei’s wife, Lise, is there too, looking much more appropriately dressed (as are her compatriots):

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That’s Lise, second from left.

She’s also got nice hair:

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And a nice outdoor cloak:

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The ball is taking place here, which, YES:

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I would not say no to a ball in this building.

Andrei ditches the wife for some Man Time with Pierre, during which Pierre vows to stop hanging out with fratboy losers.

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And then goes to hang out with Douchebag Anatole and his loser fratboy friends who, like, party hard:

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There are C.H.I.X. at this party, but I didn’t feel like including screencaps of boobs, which is all they are.

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Sadly this is as homoerotic as it gets.

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Fighting for their right to party.

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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.

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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.2016 War and Peace

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.

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Pierre is just trying not to puke.

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:

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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.

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There’s poor relation Sonya (Aisling Loftus of Mr. Selfridge), who doesn’t really have a handle on print-mixing:

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Those two prints should not be worn together, I don’t care how adventurous you are. At least she’s in a day dress!

Older brother Nikolai (Jack Lowden of Wolf Hall) who’s hanging with Frodo:

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Put yer collar up, Nikolai. It’s a sad day when Frodo is better dressed than you.

Guest Julie Karegina (Chloe Pirrie of An Inspector Calls) whose dressmaker apparently doesn’t know where her underbust is:

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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.

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Natalia is into the slightly-traditional Russian look. I like Drubetskaya’s one-shouldered shawl.

And wacky dad Count Ilya (Adrian Edmondson of Miss Austen Regrets):

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“I’m so crazy! I think animal abuse stories are HIGH-larious!”

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?).

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It just seems wrong to kiss Frodo, somehow. Hobbits aren’t sexual beings!

Pierre visits the Rostovs. On his way he stops to pet the pigs, which is a point in his favor.

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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:

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That underbust seam is laying JUST BELOW HER NIPPLES. Not a good look.

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It’s worse when she dances, because there’s no bust for it settle under, so the whole bodice just pulls up.

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Sonya has the same problem.

Natasha and Frodo are having SO MUCH FUN:
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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 BeautyBright Young Things, and The Way We Live Now) to make sure that the prince’s latest will (leaving everything to Pierre) is destroyed.

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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!

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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.

Dad — Prince Nikolai (Jim Broadbent, who has been in everything, including The Young VictoriaVanity Fair, and Gangs of New York) — seems to be a jerk.

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Sister Marya seems very sweet, although her black sheer chemisette is just plain weird.

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Are those over-the-elbow gloves and a short-sleeved chemisette? Or does she have sheer shoulders, and the opaque black are sleeves?

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Why is the chemisette neck area not connected to the short sleeve?

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I like her hair!

Andrei is ready for some away-from-the-wife action, but Lise is NOT DOWN:

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That’s Mademoiselle Bourienne, who I think is Marya’s companion, in the foreground. I question the print on her gown. The roses are awfully large…

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:

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Mom has mixed it up for a new over-robe/jacket.

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Sonya and Natasha only have one day dress each. Is it just me, or was Lily James very overbite-y in this?

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Nikolai is in his uniform.

And the family sees him off:

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Off at The War — in Austria — Andrei meets up with General Kutuzov (Brian Cox of Deadwood and The Affair of the Necklace).

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There’s a lot of manly men in uniforms:

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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.

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Can someone explain to me why there’s always a sheet IN the tub/over the edge? Does this have some functional use?

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):

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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.

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Douchebag coming home from a long night partying hard.

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SNUGGLES! And some inappropriate touching.

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.

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This is nice! They found her underbust! Nice embellishment!

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Oh. Wait. Um.

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“The world is your oyster!”

Then she promptly marches him over to Helene, who is dressed in GOD KNOWS WHAT:

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Do I need to make a graphic showing that Regency does not equal 1910s Fortuny gowns?

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The headpiece (so clearly from Hot Topic)! THE EARRINGS!!!!!!!!!!!

Back at the war…

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Andrei looks manly standing in a beautiful field at dawn.

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Chicken hats are worn.

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Nikolai experiences his first battle and gets shot in the arm.

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There clearly was a budget for extras!

Back in Russia … Prince Kuragin and Bridesmaid-of-the-Week plot to get Helene and Pierre married, by taking them ice skating:

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Lurking like crows!

Shockingly, Helene wears an outfit I like!

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CHECK OUT THAT HAT. SO cute! Military-styled hats for women were definitely a thing in the 1780s-90s — I’m assuming that was still the case in the 1800s?

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Look, Helene is COVERED!

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Appliques! Pretty gloves!

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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:

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Pierre has a nightmare about Helene seducing him:

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Okay, that’s a pretty cool coat…

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:

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I just…

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I mean…

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So wait…


And some rando at the dinner hops on the backless dress train:

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I live in anticipation of the delights of episode 2!


Have you watched War & Peace episode 1 yet? Can you explain any of this?


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132 Responses

  1. Trystan L. Bass

    Idea for next Snark Week: bathing scenes w/sheets in the tub & WTF IS THAT ABOUT??? It’s in every goddamned historical movie pre-indoor plumbing. WHY??? I DON’T GET IT!!!

    Also, Fenella Woolgar was in Cheerful Weather for the Wedding ( https://www.frockflicks.com/not-so-cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding/ ), & was yes, another snooty upper-class Brit, but it was the highlight of the film. Ya gotta see it. And I love her name. I love names like that. Like Prunella Scales (who was the wife on Fawlty Towers).

    • Meg

      I’be read that the sheets were in the tub to either protect the skin from hot metal (in the case of a metal tub), or to protect the skin from splinters (in the case of a wooden tub).

    • Liutgard

      The sheets are so you don’t have to sit there with your bare skin on the metal- especially if there’s seams in wrong places. Really- it feels really weird, and if you put perfume or anything in the water, interesting chemistry can happen. Earlier, of course, when tubs were food, the cloth kept you from getting splinters.

      When I do a vigil bath for someone, I line the tub with sheets too. Looks cool witht eh hot water, rose petals, herbs, etc.

    • Sarah E

      Is it possible the actors all just flat-out refuse to sit in a bare metal tub, or something?

    • Redhookcath

      They lined the bathtubs to protect their rear ends…the women usually wore shifts in the tub and they also had linen over them to keep them warm

  2. Clara

    I think that nothing of this can be really explained. But that one shoulder dress gave me very strong vibes of Sargent’s “Madame X”? IDK, again, it is decades ahead.
    (Also, Grantchester. It will reconcile you with James Norton, I promise you)

    • Clara

      Apologies, I meant “Gillian Anderson in the one shouldered dress” not the dress itself (which is, imho, pretty ugly)

      • Kendra

        Since I couldn’t see an actual zipper, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt — but I did include a screenshot of that suspicious closure so we could peer at it!

        • Maria Bennett

          bright of a turquoise before 1965

        • Maria Bennett

          In the novel, the author clearly said that between Helene and her brother there was a carnal connection. Pierre’s thoughts:

          “But she’s stupid. I have myself said she is stupid,” he thought. “There is something nasty, something wrong, in the feeling she excites in me. I have been told that her brother Anatole was in love with her and she with him, that there was quite a scandal and that that’s why he was sent away… It’s bad….”

          Book Three: 1805, Chapter I

  3. mmeberg

    Ugh, no. Hell no. So sad. I’m actually certain I WON’T watch this now. I was looking forward to it, dammit.

    When, when, will someone make a decent adaptation of this stupid epic.

    But thanks for the laughs :D

  4. Tinny

    The sheet in the bathtub thing: the sheet is there to keep you from burning your ass on the metal tub. If you pour hothotveryhot liquid into a metal vessel, the metal heats up. A lot. The moist sheet keeps you from feeling that too much and nicely prevents actual burns you might get from the prolonged direct contact with hot metal while bathing. Cause it sure is hard to bathe in those things without touching the tub at all.

    • Al

      Interesting. I used to have an old cast iron stand-alone tub and it’s primary feature was that in the winter time it was FREEZING cold. No matter how hot I made the water the cold metal would just suck all the heat out and you’d be luke warm in minutes.

      • Trystan L. Bass

        OK, my physics isn’t great, but wouldn’t a metal tub pretty quickly conduct the heat from the hot water out into the room? And thus, the metal (& frankly, a large quantity of water) would cool down awfully fast. Until you get to the era of porcelain-lined cast-iron tubs, there’s not much insulation either way, hot/cold. And a sheet isn’t going to help much. It just looks nice-ish, I guess.

        • Sarah Lorraine

          You’ve showered in my tub, but never soaked in it so you may not have noticed how effing cold it gets almost immediately when filled with hot water. It’s porcelain lined cast iron and it has NO thermal retention whatsoever.

          • Trystan L. Bass

            Yeah, I’m thinking that even earlier tubs would be fairly cold awfully fast — thin metal filled relatively slowly with pots of hot water? By the time the tub is halfway full, the water is, at best, lukewarm, & the metal is perfectly comfortable to the touch.

            One of the reasons for the porcelain lining was an attempt to insulate. I’m sure it’s an improvement over ye olde times, but apparently, not perfect!

          • Tinny

            I don’t think most of the movable tubs would’ve been made out of cast iron, more like zinc as buckets were, because you don’t want to be lifting cast iron too often. Granted, these are rich people (and I haven’t watched this particular show, so I don’t know what the ineriors look like) so they might have a separate room for bathing that does not need to be cleared for other use. But living here right next to Russia, I have certainly never even seen a tub made of cast iron in my life :P

      • Sarah Lorraine

        Yep, this. My current tub is a fabulous cast iron clawfoot tub (yes, I am bragging. My tub is amazing and we got it on Craigslist for stupid cheap) and the only drawback is that there is NO thermal integrity in the damn thing whatsoever. You can dump all the boiling hot water in it that you want, it will be tepid about 5 minutes later. We’ve actually improvised by placing a space heater aimed at the far end of the tub to heat it while the hot water runs at the end where the faucet is. Your back & ass will still be cold, but at least it’s a bitt better than going without.

        Now, I don’t know if this is different for copper, which I seem to recall a lot of pre-20th century tubs were made from. Copper might have better insulating properties than cast iron, so maybe that’s why the sheet’s needed?

        • Emily Barry

          Ok, two things! Firstly, cast iron has GREAT heat retention properties, BUT it is a very slow conductor and takes a lot of energy to heat up, hence the sucking warmth out of your bath thing (though once it DOES heat up, it holds on for a very long time). Copper, on the other hand, is an EXTREMELY good heat conductor. If there is hot water in a copper vessel, the entire vessel will be very hot. Silver is similar in this respect, and you can test it by leaving a silver spoon in a cup of hot tea- within a short time, the handle of the spoon will be too hot to touch.

        • Emily Barry

          This all just looks so bad… So so so bad! The men look fine (but then, they usually do), but the women! I hate that our fashion era seems to have no concept of elegance. Everything’s either skanky or frumpy. Gillian Anderson is a lovely woman, but even without the one-shouldered weirdness, did they have to give her a spray tan and bleached hair? And the dresses with no stays… everyone looks SO slouchy and saggy and rumpled, it’s just awful! I’m kind of surprised no one’s wearing a messy top-knot and big Hipster glasses.

        • Claire

          Oooo, please be careful with electric heaters in the bathroom, damp and electricity don’t mix that well. Apologies if you know this, I don’t have intimate knowledge of your bathroom, that would be weird.

          Totally agree about some of the interesting style choices W&P have made. I’m not an early C19th Russia expert but lots have made me think ‘really?!’

          • Sarah Lorraine

            Will it make you feel better to know that it’s a 1930s ceramic & copper coil heater without a grill on the front? No? Shoot.

            Anyway, we are very cautious when we do this. Though the cat did singe his tail when he got too close to the coils once.

            We live life on the edge in Chez Lorraine et Classe!

  5. Quinlyn

    My mouth fell open when I saw Natasha’s bangs and that horrid print on her dress. And I’m guessing that the sheet-in-tub thing is about making the tub more comfortable? I’m not sure how much a thin sheet would do, but I guess it puts a layer between you and the metal/wood it would be made out of.

  6. Susan Pola

    Frodo must have gone over to the Dark Side. Natasha is about 14 in the beginning of the novel.

    Re vacation, I soo want to go. Maybe we all can have a convention in St Petersburg. (Tehehehe, she laughs maniacally)

    What bothers me is that the designer doesn’t seem to know his period. This is Russia under either the short ruled Paul I orhis son, Alexander I, the French with its revolution were an anathema to the aristos. The were still referring back to Voltaire and Rousseau.

    I admit to liking the skating costume and the military. Where do I get a chicken hat?

    • Sarah E

      12, I think, though IIRC book!Boris’ attitude is pretty much “my friend’s kid sister has a crush on me, how can I politely fend her off?” and he suggests they wait at least four years, which Natasha agrees to.

  7. Cathy N

    I know, the sheet in the tub was in Marie Antoinette, and others, as you point out. We all need to research and present essays next week as to why. Why?!? And I thought the same thing with the sheer, one shoulder gowns. This was Russia people! It’s freaking COLD! No, just, no!

  8. mishkagora

    The sheet is a matter of comfort and luxury.

    Here is a medieval quote: “If your lord wishes to bathe and wash his body clean, hang sheets round the roof, every one full of flowers and sweet green herbs, and have five or six sponges to sit or lean upon, and see that you have one big sponge to sit upon, and a sheet over so that he may bathe there for a while…”

    They seemed to be obsessed with sheets. There were foot sheets and head sheets, etc..

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Hm. I can buy the linen-sheets-as-luxury-item… And there is “The Death of Marat” by David (1793) that shows the sheets draped of the back of the tub, as well as a green flannel (?) blanket pulled over the top, likely to help retain the heat.

      • zeiserl (@daszeiserl)

        Except that that’s not Marat’s actual bathtub. It’s a fantastic painting, but David was going for the pietà motif here as well as a sarcophagus image, all the while making Marat out to look like a Grecian statue, when in reality he was riddled with a pretty disgusting skin disease, the real reason for his sitting in the bath all the time. What the real bathtub looked like is anybody’s guess.

  9. Kayre Morrison

    Does Gillian’s first Mother of the Bride (she’s too old for bridesmaid. Sorry) dress actually have a zipper fastening? I’m looking at your view of the back of this tragedy and that seems to be the case.

  10. Calla

    At least in times when tubs were made of wood, they were covered in linen sheets to prevent getting slivers in your unmentionables while bathing. Maybe the practice just carried on to later times?

    • Calla

      ^^^That was a practice common with the upper class so I imagine it might also have to do with simple comfort.

  11. Em

    People from the days of yore also scented their baths with flowers and herbs. I imagine the sheet also provided a much tidier way of cleaning all that out after aristocratic bums were done soaking in their flora & fauna.

  12. Liutgard

    You know, the men’s clothes, even the military uniforms, don’t look to me like they *quite* fit right. They’re not hanging right and it looks like these guys will constantly be wiggling and shrugging. Was there an overall problem with fitting people? Especially the shoulders- I think the seam is nearly 3/4″ too far out. Pierre in particular looks like he’s a kid wearing Dad’s coat.

    • Susan Pola

      But I firmly believed that it was a character trait of Pierre to wear clothes that didn’t fit. I believe the 12 hour Russian film Pierre is slightly chubby….The clothes, though beautifully taylored, didn’t fit due to his self-consciousness about all that…???

    • Aleko

      Most modern costumiers just don’t understand the cut of the coats of the period, which called for a very narrow back (even on a fat guy you didn’t make the back panels wider, you extended the sides round to meet them), and a sleeve coming right up over the point of the shoulder and cut very high into the armpit. If you don’t understand this, it is never going to look right. And even if you DO understand this and cut it properly, the director and movement teacher still have to bully the actors into holding themselves properly. If they slouch, like many modern yoof, of course they will be convinced that their coats don’t fit.

  13. Charity


    Why did you call Boris Frodo? WHY? I can’t un-hear that and I’m going to laugh every time I see him on screen.

    He’s kinda cute too.

    I think the BBC is trying to trap me into liking the actor. After seeing him play Richard III, and then him shagging Natalie Dormer all over the place in … uh, whatever their recent Georgian flick was called, and now him being adorably dorky in this… I’m a gonner. I know it.

    This series is… a bastardization of the book. I’m watching it through my fingers, with many an indignant snarl.

  14. Abra

    Uhg. What the hell was the costume designer thinking? The first job, and really, only responsibility of the costume designer is to visually tell the story, not make one up!

  15. Janette

    Been looking forward to this review after seeing stills from the series and how perfectly timed. I have not seen one image yet where the costumes don’t scream, 20th Century. if they don’t want to make a historical costume drama then I wish they would either give up entirely and move the story to the present day, a little hard given W&P covers the Napoleonic wars, be at least consistent with the costuming so the main characters don’t look like the wandered onto the wrong set and even more importantly at the very least make the anachronistic costumes look good. That off the shoulder lavender number would look hideous in any era.
    On the positive side at least Andre and Pierre are played by young actors. My only gripe with the wonderful 1972 production was that Anthony Hopkins, (Pierre) was almost forty and Alan Dobie who played Andrei was forty. The other positive of course is that this version is filmed in Russia.
    I am less impressed with the images of Sonya’s costume. It seems to imply that she was virtually an abused orphan. While not quite on the same footing as Natasha Sonya was well cared for. Her only objection to the way she was reared was that the family expected her to be grateful to them for their kindness in adapting her. In the 1972 version her clothes are only subtlety less sparkly than Natasha’s as befits a poorer cousin. That outfit above implies that Sonya was treated as a beggar.

  16. Ros

    Sonya and Natasha are wearing the same print, I think, except that one of them has been overdyed in tea.

  17. Michael McQuown

    Two things you must never do in life if you want to be happy and sane: go to any showing of the Napoleonic exhibit that toured the world about 30 years ago and then watch this series. My wife and I witnessed an example of one of those historical ‘truisms’ that persist in spite of evidence to the contrary: while looking at manikins of women in Empire dresses, many of which were well over 5′ 5″ in height, we heard a woman in front of us assure her friend that “People were all much smaller then.”

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Unrelated to the W&P discussion but on the topic of “they were so much smaller back then”, do I have a story…

      Ten years ago, I was doing an internship in London and spending the weekends with my friends in Suffolk. At the time, there was a nice little museum in Bury St. Edmunds that had a modest, but respectable costume collection (sadly, the museum closed a few years later due to lack of funding. No idea what happened to the collection), so my friend and I decide to check it out one Saturday. We are chatting with one of the ladies who worked there and get on the topic of Elizabethan embroidery and she says, “Hang on, I have something to show you!” and disappears in the back for a few minutes. Upon return, she presents us with an archival box and within that box is the most exquisitely embroidered late-16th century cap. It had remarkable 3-D embroideries of butterflies and strawberries and everything, so we are ooh-ing and ahh-ing and the curator is pointing this thing out and that thing out… And then says “This is a man’s cap, but obviously they were much smaller back then.”

      This thing is TINY. Like, child-sized tiny. The only adult male hominid this would have ever fit died in the Pleistocene about 3 million years ago. Sure, I will concede that we are taller now on average than our 16th century counterparts, but we’re talking a few inches of variation not a full meter. Not being assholes, we didn’t say anything to the curator about how ludicrous this was, but as soon as we left the building we immediately decided that East Anglia had been populated by Elizabethan pygmies.

      • Michael McQuown

        Mark Gist, one of my 17th-century associates (and also a pirate and steampunker) did a study on average heights and concluded that they fluctuated over time rather than increased in a straight progression.

        • Sarah Lorraine

          Right, I’ve seen studies that break down higher averages over the last millennia and there’s periods where average heights were about on par with our modern averages, and periods where Europeans seemed to shave shrunk in the dryer. Like the 19th century, for any number of environmental reasons, caused averages to plummet significantly.

          At 4’11, I’m a statical outlier or modern averages for females. At 5’11, Kendra is too. Also, Kendra informs me that I am a lot taller online, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

          • Sarah E

            An anthropologist friend assured me years ago that “people used to be shorter” is a gross oversimplification, and yet I keep reading early-to-mid-20th-century stories in which the narrator says things like “he was the biggest man I ever saw — why he must have been six feet tall and two hundred pounds!” Flunctuation explains things better (plus contemporary pro sports select from a larger pool of would-be athletes and can probably afford to pick more extreme outliers than they once would have.)

      • Bess Chilver

        Oooh gosh I remember that! I remember trying not to catch your eye or I think we would have burst out laughing at the time. And she had been so nice.

        You will be pleased to know the entire collection is still in Bury but is on the Norman built Moyses Hall museum though most is in storage and little of it is on display.

  18. Tadarida

    I really wanted to like it, but it just looks so fake… Clearly, they has budget and decided to spend it in all the wrong places :( And no money left for hairpins. PUT YOUR GODDAMN HAIR UP. The costumes in 2007 series were much much better, from what I remember.

  19. Cassidy

    I’m especially annoyed by the “he used bright colors” bravery. There only appears to be one example of bright color usage that isn’t period-appropriate, and most of the people are in the stereotypical pastels anyway!

    You need to stop calling Aneurin Barnard Frodo, though. He’s my Welsh husband on the astral plane and we don’t like it!

  20. Stephani

    Saggy Regency/Empire busts and waistlines that don’t hit at the right spot are my biggest costuming peeve. For the second: IT AIN’T HARD!! It’s called a drawstring, or FFS elastic for the lazy. For the first: I get that stays aren’t on everyone’s to-do list, but wear a freakin’ bra at least. That whole “no one wore stays in the Regency” thing is way overblown and totally untrue. I don’t care how petite your bust is, it’s gonna sag without support and when you start dancing they’ll just bounce all over the place and put out your partner’s eye. There’s nothing “youthful” about a limp, unsupported bust. And if you’re full busted? fuhgeddabowdit.
    With some of the more daring “I ripped this off a Greek statue” gowns I can see where they were going. There are many portraits of European women, from early in the era especially, wearing what are essentially draperies that strongly resemble chitons with cowled necklines and asymmetrical drapes. Some of them were even depicted wearing sheer fabrics and no undergarments. But they were probably artistic idealizations by the painters, not reflections of actual garments people wore. Except maybe ladies whose charms were for sale. But the film’s costumer went way overboard. The looks are definitely more 19-teens neoclassical or 1930s.

    • Stephani

      I’ve never read W&P–sorry just can’t appreciate Russian literature–so I don’t really know the story or the context or anything about Russia’s culture and fashion at the time beyond what I’ve seen from museum collections with items ID’d as Russian in origin. But another commenter mentioned that Russia was actually anti-Napoleon during this period (which makes sense) and they rejected the Classical influences that were rampant in other parts of Europe because of the influence of the Revolution and Napoleon’s military campaigns. So if that was indeed the case, which again, makes sense, then the whole costuming approach is wrong.

      • Janette

        In 1806 they were anti Napoleon not anti-French. They employed French nannies and companions and spoke French as an affectation. In 1812 when the general sentiment was definitely anti French Pierre’s cousin reports that a woman was almost attacked by a mob on the street for speaking French.

        • Marina

          Speaking French wasn’t just an affectation, really – it was a done thing among the nobility, another way to separate themselves from the unwashed masses. Also, the servants would not understand the conversation if (or rather when) they overheard anything. The same about letters. In fact, Tolstoy mentions somewhere in the novel, I believe, that Princess Marya was not very good at spelling in Russian. Hardly surprising, when she likely had a French governess as a child and now had a French companion. It’s rather funny to see her portrayed like some homespun, uber-Russian, peasant girl.
          That generation was greatly influenced by France and French customs, etc., despite the Revolution. This probably stems from the fact that Empress Catherine the Great (died in 1796, not really all that long before the events) was good friends with Voltaire, whose ideas greatly influenced the French Revolution. The tide only turned when Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812.

      • Ella

        They weren’t really even anti-Napoleon in the beginning of the book. Pierre was all for him. Even towards the middle of the book, there’s a brief lovey-dovey truce with France. It’s not until after that falls apart that they become truly anti-Napoleon and start to drop the French affectations.

        • Stephani

          Ahh, that makes sense. Thanks for explaining that. Russian culture of any period is kind of a blank spot for me, although I think the language is beautiful.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      I always think of the portrait of Madame Recamier (Gerard’s version, not David’s) when I think of “racy Empire dress” but compared to where they went in W&P, it looks downright matronly.

      Re: bust support: WORD. Just because these actresses are skinny little things does not mean their breasts don’t need support. It’s not rocket science.

  21. Elliott James

    Re the Uniforms: Russians in the “bell topped” Kiwas shako is more appropriate to the period 1813-14, with limited introduction in 1812. Certainly not correct for 1805.

    French Infantry in short tailed jackets and shako, correct after 1808. In 1805, should be long tailed coats and fore-and-aft bicorn hats.

    • Laurence David

      Did you also notice Nicolai Rostov wears his pelisse on the wrong shoulder on several occaisions? You would have thought they would have employed a military advisor on a production with War in the title. The uniforms are also terribly mixed up in the Scenes of the Battle of Austerlitz, probably due to the lack of extras. There are to many ground explosions in an era when artillery mainly fired solid roundshot. In fact the whole look of these scenes shows the director does not have a clue about whar Napoleonic warfare looked like.

      • Sarah Lorraine

        I think they DID have a military consultant on the payroll–though apparently he was asleep the entire time or something. There was an article in the last week or so about the historian for Downton Abbey calling out W&P for the hugely egregious mistake of portraying Mortemart wearing a legion d’honneur when, as a staunch royalist, he would never have even received the medal from Napoleon, let alone worn it. I’m not a military historian, but that seems like a pretty fundamental thing one would bother looking into before throwing medals on characters willy nilly.

        Here’s the article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/bbc/12121019/Downton-Abbey-historical-advisor-bemoans-baffling-War-and-Peace-costume-error.html

        • Aleko

          For the [lack of] power and authority of historical advisers in film and TV, see here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJFFLvwNLlM

          Another point about this specific kind of error is that historical costume advisers may be listened to when the costumes are designed and made, but are rarely paid to be on set. So even if (fat chance!) the costumes as made are historically 100%, there’s always the possibility that the accessories are put on upside down or back to front, or that the actor/the director/a dresser will decide, as seems to have happened here, ‘This costume needs another medal!’ and will just riffle through the extra-medals box, find something they think looks nice, and pin it on.

      • Sarah Lorraine

        “Dotted Swiss” was referenced a lot as one of the options for chemise gowns (I seem to recall it was a particular type of lawn, but I don’t have my research in front of me). That said, I am skeptical that it looked anything like modern Swiss dot cotton.

        • Tracy

          I’ve seen extant example gowns of swiss dot very similar to modern swiss dot fabric. Plus Ackermann’s makes mention of it for day and evening gowns and has some fabric swatches as well in some of the early editions.

  22. harlyn

    This was my theory after watching: they blew the budget on braiding for the uniforms and decided to buy the cheapest acetate satin and leftover quilting cotton for the women. “We’ll show a lot of skin so no one will notice the crazy gowns and if historic costume people start complaining we’ll just say – it’s fiction and being historically accurate is just so passé.” Definitely expect to see these turn up as bridesmaid’s dresses at David’s and prom gowns this spring. :-)

    • Susan Pola

      Unless Mr Gibbon is trying to copy Reign in his costuming choices. Glitzy not even close to Regency era. Still Mary, et all wear boob support. Also I too believe that Gillian Anderson’s ‘matchmaker’ dress has a zipper.

  23. lisaolga

    Just found this site…Love It! and an observation about Sonia’s dress – it looks to be styled on the Sarafan, which is a traditional Russian women’s garment. Sarafans have no underbust gathering or support and hang from a yoke above the bust.

  24. The Author

    Oh, God, I have to post this to FB so all my friends can understand in detail my bizarre ranting while watching this. I mean the Greek/French/Thirties Boudoir-Inspired …I was babbling like a crazy person about how wrong this was. And I agree with lisaolga, I think that’s meant to be a Russian cut on Sonia’s day dress, but I really don’t think those prints were…

  25. Michael McQuown

    “The Red Sarafan” is also an old Russian song; don’t know the era of origin, but it was still around in WWII. Worth your while to look into Russian music; things like the Red Army Chorus, Don Cossack Orchestra, Bandurist Orchestra, etc.

    • Vlad Krylov

      The Red Sarafan is actually not a folk song, but in the course of time it became one. It was written by Alexander E. Varlamov c. late 1820s-early 1830s.

  26. Bess

    I know very little about costume suffice to say that off the shoulder dress withno back is so wrong it has put me off watching as I see a lot of other anomalies too. What were the costume depth thinking?!

  27. Issy

    Thank you for this post, I just love it!! :) I have been shouting at the tv for the last 3 episodes (sadly the clothing doesn’t get any better).

  28. Ella

    I don’t know what this website is or how I ended up here, but I never want to leave.

    I agree with ALL OF THE THINGS, and I’m relieved to the point of happy tears to know that I wasn’t the only one watching War & Peace and thinking “WHAAAAAAT?!?”

    The assymetrical, strappy and STRAPLESS dresses were so wrong. Tolstoy describes aristocratic women dressed in the French evening-wear of the day as “almost naked,” and I can only assume the producers decided that to indicate that for an audience they had to take it up a notch and just dress them in stuff that would look racy NOW. But Tolstoy just meant there was a lot of arm, decolletage and bust on show, with the hair upswept to reveal the neck.

    I would just say that while Natasha’s bangs are hideous, and her dress (and Sonya’s) don’t cut in under the bust, they had to somehow make Lily James look like a child in the beginning (she was literally still playing with dolls in the book), and I guess the stylistic choices were deliberate.

    I can’t wait to read more War & Peace autopsies. Keep up the snark.

    • Janette

      They also tried to obscure the fact that the girls had frontal development in the 1972 version by not having the dresses fitted to the bust. Hopefully that will change when the girls are older.

  29. Michael McQuown

    I suppose, once we cross the Channel, we should refer to the fashion as Empire, rather than Regency.
    One of Napoleon’s in-laws, Countess Murat, ended up being buried in Tallahassee, FL. I was quite amazed to run across her grave.

    • Kendra

      You’re right, it should be Empire — altho I’ll bet that the Russians have their own name for the period!

      • Marina

        The Russian name of the period is “Ampir”, which actually means Empire. :D

  30. Ruth

    I watched episode 4 last night (lucky brit) and Helene’s dresses have reached another level. I’m going to call it “the cloud dress” and it’s an absolute treat (in a terrible terrible way). Enjoy.

    • Eset

      With every new episode I dread and expect to see Helene dressed in sheer dressing gown trimmed with marabou feathers. It would fit the look they chose for the character. Every time she shows up in ferociously sexy outfit I wonder what kind of party they are at.

      Only good thing about costumes in this series is that the choices they made are consistent and somehow, in modern shortcut, describe each character.

  31. Michael McQuown

    Kendra — I think I know someone I can ask, a multilingual Russian.
    I just found a forum called Gentlemen’s Interest Military Club, a UK-based forum on all things to do with uniforms, badges, equipment, etc. They group the entries by country. I joined it and will try to get their fell for which films they think most correct in their area of expertise.

  32. Megan

    First: thank you for this beautiful snark!
    Second: if you need more historical James Norton, check out Grantchester. 1950s sleuthing CoE priest.

  33. Mary Gress

    Thank you! Was feeling so alone and aghast. Apparently they spent the whole budget on the men’s costumes. The director avoids shooting women from behind in the ball scenes so the zippers don’t show as badly. Please- it could have been so great!

    • Kendra

      You have found your people! I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt on zippers, sounds like we’re all pretty convinced tho!

  34. Irina

    Oh my Goooood.
    The first ball of Natasha is supposed to be phenomenal. Like, super-duper phenomenal. It’s one of the povital points in the novel and you have no idea how many millions essays Russian schoolchildren wrote analysing that scene.
    Look at the 1967 adaptation and note the difference! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k30OO5_nEWY

  35. Penny H

    Does anybody care that they reversed the hair colors? It’s been a long time since I last read W&P, but shouldn’t Hélène be a blond and Natasha a brunette? And a lot of the others are the opposite of what I would expect.

  36. christine

    Coming to you from the future (the uk..) can’t wait to read your glorious commentary on the next episodes. I think I love you by the way, just found your site and it’s solid gold!

  37. Michael McQuown

    For the Russians, it would have been an Imperial era, but not Napoleon’s empire.
    “Krasny Sarafan” is not, as I had assumed, a piece of popular music, but a formal composition by Aleksandr Yegorovich Varlamov. There are several performances available on YouTube.

  38. ladylavinia1932

    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.

    This is “crazytown” all right. Eleanor Powell wore something similar in a 1953 movie called “ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO”. The movie was set in 1863 – http://rosiepowell2000.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5500c8a2a8833016761dbadc9970b-pi.

  39. Michael McQuown

    My source says the Russians refer to “Nikolaian Russia,” or the “Ekaterinan Epoch” At the time, I suppose the French would have referred to it as the Imperial Age, or the Napoleonic Age. Most of these labels were probably after the fact. The English might very well have referred to the Regency as such at the time.

    • Ester

      Isn’t there also a difference in terminology when we are talking about time periods as opposed to styles? “Empire” doesn’t only refer to a period when France and Russia were ruled by an emperor/tsar, but a specific look which influenced not only how people dressed, but also architecture, furniture design ect. I can’t say for sure, what the correct word in Russian might be, as I dont speak the language. What I know is, that Finland, where I’m from, was at that time part of the Russian empire and we refer to the style as Empire. Many of the originally French influences reached us via St Petersburg.

    • Vlad Krylov

      Some epochs are definitely referred to by the name of the emperor (empress), some are not. Petrovian (Peter the Great), Nikolaian (Nicholas I), Ekaterinian (Catherine II), Pavlian (Pavel I) – yes, but, say Alexander II’s era is usually referred to as “poreformennaya” (i e after the reforms). It differs.

  40. mmcquown

    Most of these labels are post-facto. Today, we usually refer to our era in terms of the decade; later, they are often referred to in terms of who was President, what music was popular, etc. Most of these appellations are used by historians and the media rather than by the average person. Significant events will also be used, as World War Two, the Atomic Age, the Space Age, etc. What would most of you call the times we live in now?

  41. Christine Cover Ferro

    What in the name of Walter Plunkett is going on with the hem of Lily James’ print dress? Even accounting for her arms being up, it’s like a Regency bastard child of a high-low and a micro-mini.

  42. LadySlippers

    I’m so glad I found this site!!!

    Anyhoo, I have two comments.

    One) Sheets in tubs can also be due to not wanting to have the body nude. Several European countries have been traditionally very prude, and being fully nude was a huge cultural no-no, therefore sheets could be used for both protection AND modesty. (That’s why you’ll often see people bathing in sheer gowns too)

    Two) Military uniforms, even today, are usually a hot mess. But it’s often done on purpose and not on accident (which drives me bananas).

  43. Anne

    Did anyone notice plastic training skates on skating scene? Very 1970 forward..

  44. Aleko

    Second everything people have said about Gillian Anderson’s as one-shouldered lavender ballgown. Plus, it just didn’t actually look to me like a real dress at all. It looks exactly like they thing they do in the display windows of fabric shops, draping and pinning a length of fabric on a dummy to show off how it might look if you actually sewed a dress out of it.

  45. Erika

    the green building is Hermitage in st Petersburg, the yellow one is Ruental in Latvia :)

  46. mmcquown

    I just remembered something from the exhibit: a cup moulded from Josephine’s breast. It would be interesting to know who did it and how.