Monday, 9 March 2015

Top 5 Guilty Pleasure Film Flicks

When I meet people I usually know within about 5 minutes how good a friend they will be. One of my very best friends and I met when she wanted to hire me to costume a period film (which is a pretty good start). While we can both wank on about arthouse films with the best of them and happily use the criticism "that is so mainstream" to discuss an Oscar winning film, we also have a shared deep dark secret: at our very first meeting we discovered a mutual love of historic romance novellist Georgette Heyer, and it turns out we share a love of film of a similar vein.

I just received the dvd for this film, which looks sumptuos and amazing, and has been specially selected for a movie night with said best friend. I'll review it once we've seen it, but it got me to thinking.

Of course there are the usual frock flicks like Gone with the wind, Room with a view, The Princess Bride and The BBC Pride and Prejudice that are widely acknowledged as classics of the genre. But there are also the lesser known films, the slightly embarassingly corny, naff, raunchy, or even worse to some, not remotely historically accurate. *Gasp!* They're the Sunday-afternoon-in-your-pyjamas films that would never even be remotely considered for an award, yet I can recite them word for word and secretly prefer to their much better scripted, directed and acted counterparts.

So I'm going to do a series of posts on my top 5 costume films that I don't like to admit to being obsessed with.

Number 5:


Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton

Sink me. There have been many adaptations of Baroness Orczys novels but this made for TV film adaptation is by far my favourite. The strangest thing about this film is I started watching it because my very straight, then in his mid teens older brother, loved it. (He also had an unhealthy obsession with Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves when it came out, but lets not go into that).

The plot:

Set during the French Revolution, the thorn in Ropesbierre's side is the infamous Scarlet Pimpenel and his league, famed for snatching the (innocent *cough*) aristocrats from the horrors of Madame Guillotine in audacious and cunning escapades. The Scarlet Pimpernel is none other than Sir Percival Blakeney, who acts the society fop in order to protect his identity. Whilst in Paris he falls in love with and marries beautiful actress Margeurite St. Just, whom he whisks off to England. But Margeurite has ties with Percy's nemesis and fervent revolutionary Chauvelin, and nothing, not even his love for her, can endanger his plans to save the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne.

When Gandalf met Sebastian Flyte

The Cast:

The film is most notable today for having a young(er) Ian McKellan as Chauvelin, long before he became the hero of geeks everywhere, at a time when he was almost exclusively known as a highly respected Shakespearean actor. He is brilliantly uptight as the much thwarted villain of the piece, but also brings an almost sympathetic, softly comic side to what might otherwise be a fairly dull character It also stars an almost unrecognisably beautiful Jane Seymour as Marguerite St. Just, and Anthony Andrews (sans Aloysius) playing the titular fop-come-masquerading hero to perfection. The script is witty and fast paced and doesn't ask you to think too much, aware that it is firmly placed in the Rollicking Good Time genre, but by casting some of the England's finest, the characters become more than cardboard cutouts with complex relationships, lifting what could have been mellodrama into a love triangle between layered and three dimensional characters. Playing fast and loose with the source material (it's based on at least 2 of the Baroness' books, both the original Scarlet Pimpernel and Eldorado), it's as ridiculous as it is completely charming, escaping the self-congratulatory smugness or attempts to make serious commentary on the revultion, it allows as the laddish charm and romantic subplots of the league seduces you into their adventures.

Those hats, that collar, the hair

The Costumes:

And the costumes? It's designed by Phyllis Dalton. The name may not mean much, but when I tell you her extensively impressive list includes Doctor Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia before this film, but who also went on to costume two of the most beloved frock flicks (at least in my opinion) The Princess Bride and Kenneth Branaghs Much Ado About Nothing, you will appreciate that I don't need to wax lyrical about her talents. Unusually for this period of paniers, heaving bosoms and powdered hair, the costumes manage to be gorgeous without distracting from the characters wearing them. Margeurite's are particularly impressive from both a beautiful and character driven perspective, as she convincingly transforms from Republican sympathetic French actress to wealthy English Lady.

Margarite as on the stage...
vive la revolution ....
to English garden party

Favourite Frock:

This was genuinely a difficult one, simply because this is the one era where the mens clothes genuinely come close to outshining the ladies, and as an utter fop and friend of the Prince Regent, Sir Percival Blakeney has some of the most stylish togs around. However as this is a guilty pleasures post, and I'm confessing my deepest darkest secrets, it has to be the Margeurites wedding gown, It's not even the prettiest frock in the film, but its beautiful silhouette and simplicity has basically ruined every other wedding dress for me. Ever. In fact I want that whole wedding -  complete with a romantic dance with a man dressed in white satin.

Sexiest costume:

I'm not going to go into too much details - Spoilers! - but here it is. Watch it and tell me I'm wrong. But there is costume logic to it. In basically every other scene Percy is immaculately dressed or in disguise, whereas here this may be the closest you get to seeing him in his natural state.

Why this film is a Guilty Pleausre:

It's a 1982 made for tv movie (lets be honest, they don't have the best reputation) based on a series of books that have never quite worked out which side of the Classic/Trashy Romantic Fiction line they walk. Originally a play in 1903, it was released as a novel in 1905 to great success, with many sequels. This is one of many adaptions for stage and screen (both big and small), most notably the 1950 David Niven film, the 1999 Richard E. Grant miniseries and Don't Lose Your Head, a Carry On Film starring Sid James as The Black Fingernail. While this film ads nothing profound or great to the collection, it is unashamedly good fun.

Why you should watch this film:

The grand finale at Mont St-Michel, the island castle reached by causeway is brilliant (your belief should be well and truely suspended by this point), but actually the greatest thing about this film is the language. Witty banter combined, old world phrasing and idiosyncratic catch phrases make this film entirely quotable. Sink me, watch it and see if I'm not right!

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