I would say that I got into history for the clothes.
In case you didn’t already know this about me, I’m obsessed with costume dramas. I can’t resist them. I’d watch them all if I could, I don’t really have a type. Any film that emulates any time period that falls between the fourteenth century to the end of the nineteenth is good enough for me. It’s all about the visual style of these films. That’s what got me hooked.
Period dramas have beautiful colour tones, palettes and, of course, costumes. I especially love ones that have a lot of velvet. Velvet is my favourite fabric because it’s the best fabric – it looks lush no matter if its a jewel tone or a pastel and adds texture. It’s soft like kitten fur. There needs to be more velvet in the world.
It’s November in Toronto and we’re starting to feel the chill. I feel like I’m the opposite of most Torontonians in that I love it when it snows. It puts me in the mood for dramatic velvet capes that I can wrap myself in. So, for that reason, my vibe for November is fancy costume dramas.
I think this obsession started with Amadeus (1984). I watched it when I was twelve and became immediately obsessed with it. The setting, the lighting, the costumes – it is so absolutely gorgeous to look at.
Despite the fact that living during this time was a nightmare for women (I’m not even counting all the diseases they didn’t have immunizations for), I would love to live in this era just for a day – as a rich person of course. Who wouldn’t want to wear a corset and a fifty pound wig and layers of undergarments and padding with an intricate dress on top of it all?
The period-piece obsession continued when I saw Ever After (1998), a rite of passage film for every millennial who loved Disney and teen magazines and Drew Barrymore.
This film is one that I watch when I need a good cry because of how romantic and emotional it is.
It’s a modernization of the Cinderella story and my favourite version of the tale. I mean, the Prince of France was interested in her because she read books?! A dream for bookish girls everywhere.
Plus, Drew wears a ton of velvet medieval princess costumes that I am very much interested in having in my closet.
Speaking of medieval times, I recently watched The Princess of Montpensier (2010).
The film is based on the novel by Madame de la Fayette that was published (anonymously because sexism) in 1662. I expected it to be really stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a fairly intense psychological drama with an existential feel.
Marie (Mélanie Thierry) is married off to the Prince of Montpensier. The problem is that’s she’s in love with her childhood friend, the Duke of Guise. Her tutor also falls in love with her, as well as the Duke of Anjou, so Marie has to navigate political intrigue at court we well as fending off romantic advances while trying to maintain her dignity and reputation.
There are intense and gory battle scenes that break up the melodrama, so it has something for everyone. Romance, intrigue, fancy costumes, intense swordplay – what more could you want from a costume drama?
Speaking of Amadeus, I recently watched the French period film Mozart’s Sister (2010).
It focuses of Mozart’s older sister (duh), Nannerl, who was a musician in her own right. The film addresses the sexism of the time and the fact that women were largely barred from music and composition – Nannerl’s father won’t let her play the violin now that she’s, essentially, marrying age and she can’t even dream about composing.
There’s also themes of burgeoning sexuality and gender. Women are stuck with their lot in life and are subject to their fathers’ choices, rebelling as best they can in this environment. There’s a romantic subplot between Nannerl and the Dauphin, who she meets because she becomes friends with his sister. In order to meet with him to pass on letters from the Princess, Nannerl has to dress as a man, adding a whole new level of psychosexual drama to the piece.
Plus, the costumes.
And last, but certainly not least, my favourite costume drama – Marie Antoinette (2006).
I know a lot of people hate this film, but I love it. It may be thin on plot, but it’s fairly historically accurate and I think it’s a really inventive way to cover the life of such an infamous historical figure. The era was just so different, I think it has to be modernized to be accessible.
I would love to redecorate my entire life to match the design of the film.
If you need me for the rest of the month, I’ll be collecting chokers, putting silk flowers in my hair, and draping myself in velvet.