We’ve posted before about Wolf Hall, the 2015 TV mini-series in production by the BBC. It’s based on the fiction book by Hilary Mantel, which won all sorts of accolades, as well as its sequel (Bring Up the Bodies). The story focuses on Thomas Cromwell and his role in the Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn divorce/marriage/beheading saga. Clear images of the costumes are being released, and they look surprisingly accurate and attractive!
I’m loving that they cast a real redhead as Henry VIII (Damian Lewis), although I wish they had avoided the Catherine of Aragon black hair trap.
The costumes are designed by Joanna Eatwell, whose previous work includes The Paradise, the 1997 Richard Dreyfuss Oliver Twist, and a whole bunch of things I’ve never heard of.
We’ve seen paparazzi shots from filming, but the production is now releasing stills… and the costumes look really good! Every time I do a Google image search for this production, I have a moment of “ugh” as I come across the various theater versions with lead actresses wearing their hair down under their French hoods — then I realize they AREN’T this BBC production and I say “phew!”
Overall the costumes look really nicely done, minus the bodice wrinkling on that one pink dress worn by Anne Boleyn. But otherwise, I’m seeing ouches, and gable hoods, and French hoods with hair worn UP (and only one of those hoods looks like a visor, on Jane Parker), and blackwork, and really nice gown silhouettes.
Of course, I’m not a Tudor expert, so I pinged our own Sarah and asked for her take:
Tudor Expert Sarah here, and the first thing that comes to my mind when looking at the photos is that the costume designer has been paying attention to recent advances in Tudor clothing construction, likely getting their construction info from The Tudor Tailor. This is a Good ThingTM, and I hope more productions follow suit going forward. Extra props for Anne Boleyn’s white satin coronation gown unlaced (or rather, pinned) to her kirtle over her pregnant belly. Nice touch, which you NEVER see in dramatizations of this part of her life. *high fives the costumer*
Also, I will disagree a bit with Kendra about the wrinkly bodice issue… IF you’re doing things the “historically accurate way” by layering the gown over a kirtle, you get those wrinkles across the bodice. I put “historically accurate way” in quotes because there’s still a lot of back and forth amongst costume historians about how much stiffening and what sort of stiffening was used in bodices prior to the adoption of corsets* (so, pre-1580). What is known is that according to wardrobe accounts, which vary as to how much detail was included, stiffening in the bodices of gowns was limited to canvas, pasteboard, or buckram (which is not the same sort of thing as our modern buckram– jury’s still out as to what, exactly it was like and how stiff it was, but near as anyone can tell it was a glue-stiffened plain weave fabric which was probably linen or a combination of linen and cotton). So, the wrinkling seems to be something that, based on the accumulated research, was common. Contemporary English artwork, of course, omits wrinkles by and large, but this was a period of highly stylized artistry so it’s not too much of a leap in logic to assume that artists just didn’t faithfully represent what they saw.
Second thing that comes to my attention is that it’s a toss-up with the French Hoods. At least the actresses are wearing them, and they aren’t either a headband or a fabric covered visor, but they’re still not quite right. Maybe that’s just me picking nits, since the hoods are 75% of the way there in terms of correct shape and size, but there’s still just a hint of “artistic license” creeping in that makes me twitch.
Thirdly, the costume of Henry’s with the brocade jerkin (see above) is pretty good, but it falls into that decidedly ren faire trope of embroidering/outlining/jeweling only one single motif in the center of the chest (or on women, the center of the forepart). I’m not expecting accuracy in film, trust me, but that’s one of my big peeves in 16th century costuming that just screams “I couldn’t be arsed to finish the embroidery on this outfit.” All I can say is that back then, if there was embroidery, it was all over and not just focused on one 12″x12″ area of the bodice.
Fourthly, there’s been some online discussion about the lack of codpieces on the men (see below), but I’m just glad they didn’t go with the “cod flap” thing that we see in so many films of this era. Overall the lack of codpieces is pretty low on my hierarchy of Things That They Always Get Wrong In Sixteenth Century Film Costuming, so I’m not getting my knickers in a bunch over it.
My overall take? It looks pretty good. Although I don’t know WTF the designer was going for with this outfit:
It’s so jarringly different compared to the other gowns we’re seeing so far, so I’m wondering what predicated the decision to have this gown thrown in there. It looks like something pulled from the stock of a local theatre company’s production of Macbeth. In fact, I recognize the trim around the neckline and wrists from Heritage Trading Company on eBay. Score!
Anyway, I’ll turn it back now to Kendra…
There’s a few bits of info on the costumes in this article, including the fact that the codpieces were downsized, and “no zips or velcro” were used! (Well thank god).
*Yes, we know that “corset” is not a period accurate term in the 16th century, but we’re going for easily understood terminology, and not many people outside of the historical costuming world know what a “payre of bodies” is.