Category Archives: Films

Top Costumes: Lady in White

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a period film, costumes are just as important as the plot and main characters. They allow the viewer to become immersed in the era. So as part of an ongoing feature in the blog, we are profiling our favorite costumes from period films.

Eliza Doolittle’s Embassy Ball Gown


When it comes to costumes from the 1964 film My Fair Lady, Eliza’s black-and-white Ascot dress and over the top, cartoonishly large hat seem to have reached iconic status. But her Embassy Ball dress — nay, gown; this no mere dress — is the one that always stuck in my mind. This is what I’d want to look like if I was trying to pass as an aristocrat: shimmering, rich, opulent, but not in a crass way. Costume designer Cecil Beaton really knew how to clean up a girl. Strictly speaking, the gown might not be completely historically accurate, and something about that hairdo reads very 60s to me, but even so: this is how you wear white.

— Année

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Emma (1996) – the one with Kate Beckinsale

The same year Gwyneth Paltrow was tricking us all with her fake English accent in Emma, the wonderful people who make British television tapped Andrew Davies to adapt the novel for TV and put Kate Beckinsale in the title role. Although it’s made for the small screen this Emma is a feature-length production, not a multi-hour miniseries like the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice. But never fear, the BBC has a new miniseries-length Emma — it premieres tonight in the U.S. on PBS! It’s like Christmas all over again here at Petticoat Junction.

While it might not be fair to review a movie by comparing it to another…too bad. Comparisons between the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and the Kate Beckinsale Emma are inevitable.

One of the critical differences between the two films is the Mr. Knightley- Emma connection, which we alluded to in our review of the Gwyneth Paltrow film. In the British film Mr. Knightley feels much older than Emma —  his treatment of her is more stiff, and his condemnation of her behavior is much more severe. There’s less friendly, playful banter between the two. He’s a stern creature in general — almost brooding. He has quite the angry temper, too. When he hears Frank Churchill is going to ride all the way to London just for a haircut he looks like he’s going to punch a hole through the wall.

So who’s the better Mr. Knightley? Jeremy Northam, the friendly, gentle critic, or Mark Strong, the stern, stiff moralist with the furrowed brow?

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Emma (1996) – the one with Gwyneth Paltrow

We at Petticoat Junction have been waiting, all squirmy and excited, for the new BBC-produced Emma, premiering on PBS in less than a week. We’re working through our jealousy for our British neighbors, whose networks seem to love costume dramas to bits, while we here in the States can go for years with nary a bonnet or petticoat on any of the major channels. Le sigh.

Anyway, since this is Major Television Event, I’m reviewing other Emmasthe made-for-TV film the BBC did in 1996 and the feature film that came out the same year. Three adaptations in fifteen years (four if you count Clueless) might sound like overkill, but it’s great fun to compare the different treatments of the source material. And, duh — we blog about costume dramas. This is our thing.

The 1996 Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the heroine and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley, is one of those comfort movies I’ve returned to over and over again. Light and airy in tone and feel, featuring gorgeous scenery and costumes, this Emma is a pleasure from start to finish.

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Top Costumes: The Best Spring Party Dress, Ever

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a period film, costumes are just as important as the plot and main characters. They allow the viewer to become immersed in the era. So as part of a new, ongoing feature in the blog, we are profiling our favorite costumes from period films.

Scarlett O’Hara’s green barbecue dress from Gone with the Wind.

I first saw Gone With the Wind as a sixth grader and was utterly besotted — not with the story or the characters, but the dresses. I got around to reading the book after my parents gave it to me as a Christmas present; only then did I come to appreciate the actual story. Now I much prefer the book over the film. Scarlett’s and Rhett’s characters are more forcefully felt in the novel, I think — but I still love the film’s costumes designed by Walter Plunkett. This dress that Scarlett wore to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks is my favorite of several gorgeous gowns. It’s pretty, light, flirtatious, and carefree. The deep green matches her personality, too; she’s a bit of a jealous, conniving bitch (in a good way!) and the hue conveys that.

— Année

The Young Victoria (2009)

Everyone loves a good royal romance. At age fourteen I had a huge poster of Prince William hanging on my bedroom wall, I’m not ashamed to admit. Though there are those who believe the monarchy is an affront to human dignity (and we can see their point) we here at Petticoat Junction never let that get in the way of our fantasy life.

But we digress.

Happily for the fourteen-year-old inside us,  The Young Victoria focuses on the relationship between Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. They were in love, like, toad-ally; their marriage was a partnership based on friendship and mutual trust, with each promising to take care of the other — it’s the modern ideal, really. We’re not sure if this is an accurate depiction of their relationship, but it’s difficult to resist the pair’s chemistry. Very cute, although Victoria doesn’t let Albert forget who wears the crown and who’s just the spouse.

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Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Dr. Watson: Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?

Sherlock Holmes: No.

— Sherlock Holmes

When we here at Petticoat Junction saw the preview for Sherlock Holmes, we were all tingly with anticipation. It promised to combine all our favorites – Victorian London, mystery, intrigue, and a new take on a popular fictional hero. And Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. aren’t too hard on the eyes, either. Having never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, we were quite ready to accept this new, decidly grittier Holmes without that tweed cape and dorky matching hat.

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Mansfield Park (1999)

Edmund: Oh, don’t be an imbecile.
Fanny: Oh, but imbecility in women is a great enhancement to their personal charms.
Edmund: Fanny, you’re being irrational.
Fanny: Yet another adornment. I must be ravishing.

— Mansfield Park

Watch all of it (yes, the whole movie) on Youtube.

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel has been met with criticism as it significantly alters major elements of the novel — so much so that the movie is more an interpretation than an adaptation. In the book the heroine Fanny Price is meek, shy, and modest, with an infallible moral compass. The movie makes her more of a modern woman. She is quiet around strangers and has the same strong sense of right and wrong, but also a strong sense of self. She’s assertive, with a biting wit and a stubborn personality, given to feisty quotes like the one above. She’s also a budding author. In short, she is Rozema’s version of Austen herself — indeed, many of her more sarcastic lines are verbatim quotes from Austen’s juvenilia and correspondence.

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