Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Bookstore Videos

Based on a serialized novel written in the 19th century by Elizabeth Gaskell, the PBS miniseries Wives and Daughters (video/DVD) will likely please anyone who enjoys Jane Austen or George Elliot. It is a compelling story of life in a small English village, filled with love, secrets, and sacrifices. And the costumes are wonderful: a viewer cannot choose better for an excellent look at the late-Regency/Romantic Era clothes of the late 1820s. From the middle-class country-girl heroine to her fashion-plate stepmother, they are splendidly designed, realized, and accessorized.

A Royal Scandal. This Masterpiece Theatre production (on video only) dramatizes the true story of the Prince Regent's unsuccessful marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Definitely stranger than fiction, A Royal Scandal is faithful to the historical record, drawing dialogue from actual documents and correspondence. The costumes are excellent: the characters look as if they stepped straight out of period portraits, and since the story begins in 1794 and continues over a period of two decades, it's fascinating to watch the progression of Regency styles. A more detailed review is available here.

The Richard Sharpe Series:

Sharpe's Collection #1 ("Sharpe's Rifles," "Sharpe's Eagles," "Sharpe's Company," and "Sharpe's Enemy").
This series is set "in the midst of the desperate missions and battles of the Napoleonic wars in 19th-century Spain" and is based on Bernard Cornwell's best-selling novels. Maverick British officer Richard Sharpe has risen through the ranks of Wellington's army; he and his men operate behind enemy lines, risking their lives to undermine Napoleon's forces. The love interest is the beautiful (and slightly underclad) guerilla leader, Teresa, played by Assumpta Serna.

Jane Austen Adaptations:

Pride and Prejudice (1996).
Suffice it to say that this BBC/A&E production has spawned many websites and legions of rabid fans. A beautiful retelling of the story with great actors and six hours of beautiful costumes (although the ladies' bustlines are overexposed for day wear). If you have a DVD player, don't miss the newer widescreen Special Edition.

Pride and Prejudice (1980s).
This BBC version, starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, follows the book more strictly than A&E's newer one, but isn't quite as fun and exciting. The costumes, however, are quite true to period and are highlighted by wonderful accessories (Lizzie's fringed parasol is straight out of a fashion plate of the time).

Sense and Sensibility (1996; video/DVD).
Emma Thompson's script differs in some ways from the book, but she captures the feel of an Austen novel beautifully. Director Ang Lee's long camera shots and painting-like setups bear repeated viewings, and it makes perfect sense that he studied Vermeer paintings before making this film. The gorgeous costumes date to the first version of the book, Elinor and Marianne, which was written in the late 1790s, and are fairly accurate (though why aren't the sisters dressed in mourning for their father?). With Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, all excellent.

Sense and Sensibility (early 1980s).
This version stars Irene Richard. Not as gripping as the Emma Thompson version, but more true to the plot of the book. And it's always interesting to get a different take on the costumes.

Persuasion (1996; video/DVD).
This is a wonderful film. Amanda Root stars as the sadder-but-wiser Anne Elliot in this version of Austen's last complete novel, and she is excellent. The film is condensed from the book but very true to its feel, and the candlelit rooms and grubby hunting clothes are extremely realistic. (Keep an eye out for Anne's delightful spencers!) Highly recommended.

Emma (1996; video/DVD).
This feature film stars Gwyneth Paltrow as the indomitable Emma. She's lovely in the part, if a bit on the anorexic side. Watch for a fabulous Mrs. Elton, and Toni Collette as a rather slapstick Harriet. The costumes are pretty, although the women are all quite underdressed for day wear. A very charming film.

Emma (1997; video/DVD).
This A&E production was decidedly more faithful to the book than the feature film version, and the costumes were much more accurate and suited to the year the book was published. Still, although I like the actors very much, it lacked the sparkle of the feature film. Very worth watching, however.

The most recent production of Mansfield Park (video/DVD) is a controversial film among Janeites. Despite the period setting, it is a film with a very modern feel in some ways. It also recasts the much-maligned Fanny Price as almost an embodiment of Jane Austen herself, even ascribing Austen's early, humorous history of England (written for the amusement of her friends and family) to Fanny - and also superimposing some rather heavy-handed modern sensibilities on Austen's morality. If you require a faithful retelling of the novel, run! The cinematography is beautiful, with fabulous, saturated colors, but from a costuming standpoint be aware that the clothes are more oriented toward conveying character and adding to the overall look of the film than in period accuracy. As usual, the women are all rather underdressed for daytime, and the clothes are oversimplified or modernized.

Mansfield Park (1983). I haven't seen this BBC production yet, but the costumes on the box look to be wonderfully accurate late 1790s, which makes a change from the usual early-1800s years chosen by costume designers. I think its qualities as a drama are considered on par with other BBC Austeniana.

Northanger Abbey
This is a peculiar film. The book itself is partly a parody of the overly romantic novels popular at the time, and the creator of this BBC movie seems to have been hung up on quirkiness. The story begins in Bath, and there's an amazing scene of people "taking the waters."

[ back | home | e-mail me ]

Copyright 1997-2003 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
To the best of my knowledge, all images used are in the public domain
or used with permission. Please contact me if I am infringing on your rights.