WCW: Gugu Mbatha-Raw


British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw has done a number of period flicks, from one of her early roles as an 18th-century aristocratic woman in Belle to the upcoming biopic of British-Jamaican nursing pioneer Mary Seacole in Seacole. I thought that, and of course her talent and range, made her the perfect candidate for a Woman Crush Wednesday!


Marple: “Ordeal by Innocence” (2007)

One episode of the Agatha Christie, 1950s-set murder mystery series.

2007 Marple- Ordeal by Innocence

Glammy red.

2007 Marple- Ordeal by Innocence

Apparently that’s a theme here! Must be Christmas? Valentine’s Day?


Belle (2013)

As Dido Elizabeth Belle, a real-life woman of color who was raised by her aristocratic English family and who was both inside and yet outside of that family.

Belle (2013)

Nice floral prints for the period.

2013 Belle

Pretty in pink!

Belle (2013)

Ooo the texture on that jacket is great, even if the cuffs are super dated for the period.

Belle (2013)

Dressed up fancy!

Belle (2013)

Beautiful use of color.

Belle (2013)

Hat! Lace! Magenta! Parasol!

Belle (2013)

I love the edging on the ruched trim.


Free State of Jones (2016)

Based on a true story, about Newton Knight, a Mississippi man who led an armed revolt against the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Mbatha-Raw plays the real-life Rachel, an enslaved woman who becomes his wife.

2016 Free State of Jones

That’s very lovely and accurate to the period.

2016 Free State of Jones

Not a fan of Keri Russell’s bonnet, but then I’m not a bonnet fan! Mbatha-Raw’s dress is simple, but up-to-date with its round waistline.


Beauty and the Beast (2017)

She plays Plumette, a maid who is transformed into a feather duster, in the live-action, 18th-century-ish adaptation.

2017 Beauty and the Beast

I’m guessing the skirt is supposed to look like feathers?

2017 Beauty and the Beast

And in the hair too! That short and curly front, long in back is very 1780s.

2017 Beauty and the Beast


Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

A crime movie set in 1957 New York. Mbatha-Raw plays an African-American woman fighting “urban renewal.” Things get more complicated!

2019 Motherless Brooklyn

That hairstyle is perfect! And the colors are great on her.

2019 Motherless Brooklyn

Now THAT is a swing coat!


Come Away (2020)

She plays the adult Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) in this homage to Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

Come Away (2020)

Pretty metallic lace.

Come Away (2020)


Come Away (2020)

VERY emphasized boobs! Or is that just something being puffy? I don’t know. I see boobs!


Misbehaviour (2020)

Technically a little late for us, but Mbatha-Raw is SO good in this I had to include it! She plays the real-life Miss Grenada who competed in the 1970 Miss World competition, while British feminists protest.

2020 Misbehaviour

Her wardrobe is surprisingly fab!

2020 Misbehaviour

Of course pageants gotta pageant.

2020 Misbehaviour

Contrasting with one of the feminists (played by Keira Knightley).


Summerland (2020)

A reclusive writer is forced to take in a refugee boy during World War II. In part of the story, she flashes back to her relationship with with Vera (Mbatha-Raw) while at university.

2020 Summerland

CUTE lingerie, great parasol!

2020 Summerland

Love her hairstyle and that stripe!

2020 Summerland



Seacole (coming soon)

She’ll be playing the real-life Mary Seacole, a British-Jamaican nurse during the Crimean War (1853-56).


I’m not loving the low neckline and those appliques, but it doesn’t help that I don’t much like this period.


I’m guessing the short sleeves are for practicality? They DID have short-sleeved gowns for hot weather, and this looks hot.


Which of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s historical roles is your fave?


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.

15 Responses

    • Kat

      I was coming down to say the same thing; awkward capture of a moment when her hands are directly at boob-level, creating a strange optical illusion (presumably she’s pushing the cape off her shoulders or pulling it around her shoulders?)

  1. Jillian

    The emphasized boobs photo, she’s holding her hands to her chest, kind of like she’s getting ready to shrug her cape off. The angle of the shot makes it look weird.

  2. M.E. Lawrence

    Thanks for the reminder that I must see “Come Away.”

  3. Heather Ripley

    I loved her in Belle. The clothing was dreamy in that film and it had a great story too. I did see the Christie performance as well. But now I have more to watch. Thank you for profiling this actress.

  4. Roxana

    She’s too young and pretty for Mary Seacole, a forceful middle aged woman at the time of the Crimean War.

    • Kat

      Gugu Mbatha-Raw is 39 (though she doesn’t look it) but you’re right in that she’s still 13 years younger than the real Mary Seacole was during the Crimean War.

      • Roxana

        Wow! I’m a lousy judge of age but she still looks like an ingenue to me!

  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    She is AWESOME and SO BEAUTIFUL!!!! Belle is my favorite of her historical roles. She was also in the TV show Touch (not a FrockFlick) which was very good and unfortunately one or two seasons.

    • Susan Pola Staples

      Belle is my favourite, too. I like her Plumette in B&B and disliked the costumes for Belle. Not period. I want to see Seacole.

  6. Carrie

    Loved her in Belle- she is radiant and understated and real. Sarah Gadon is wonderful as her sister, too.

  7. Roxana

    Dido Belle’s aristocratic family was Scottish not English and showed a praiseworthy sense of responsibility towards her in spite of her being illegitimate as well as black. The Murray’s peers were offended by Belle being treated like a member of the family but that didn’t stop her guardians from including her in social events. The Murrays did their best but Belle’s position was difficult both socially and legally in spite of their support and the money left to her.

  8. Roxana

    Mary Seacole wasn’t actually a nurse in the Crimea, she ran a canteen for the troops and a restaurant for officers. She was present at some battles, with food and drink for soldiers and onlookers and she carried bandages so she probably provided some first aid but her real nursing seems to have been caring for cholera patients during epidemics in Kingston and Panama, which shows her courage.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Nursing as a formal profession wasn’t a thing until after the Crimean War (not really until the 20th c.), & much of what women did at battlefields, was generically termed “nursing.” Mary Seacole practiced traditional medicine in Jamaica so it’s as fair to call her a “nurse” as anyone else at the time.

      • Roxana

        That’s true. Just about every woman in the early nineteenth century learned something about medicine at their mother’s knee, as did Mrs. Seacole. But even she conceeded some of what she’d been taught was ineffective at best, dangerous at worst but in pure justice no more so than the practices of accredited physicians.
        Florence Nightingale is famous for putting nursing on a professional basis.