To celebrate the release of Brideshead Revisited, Movies.ie takes a look at the quintessential costume dramas…
Big hats, Emma Thompson and a lot of pomp are the base elements, it seems, of any costume drama. Released this week Brideshead Revisited is the latest in a long line of novels first adapted to the small screen to find its way into the cinema via a shiny makeover and pretty cast. Looking back at the greatest costume dramas it is often the lengthy BBC adaptations that stand out. Rather than condensing the long and detailed novels into an hour or two the Beeb created series that remain among the public’s most treasured hours of television viewing. Recounting the costume dramas that captured our imagination is a lesson in the popularity of Jane Austen and the thousand knowing glances that brought countless blushes to the cheeks of innocent heiresses. Austen dominates this list of the better costume dramas available if Brideshead Revisited and its genre tickles your fancy.
Pride and Prejudice: 1995 BBC, 2005 Film
Pride and Prejudice for the BBC was the vehicle that launched the ‘stepping out of the lake soaked to his skin’ career of Colin Firth. It is this scene that made his role in movies like the Bridget Jones movies, St. Trinians and countless others possible. In Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name Bridget Jones fantasizes about the real life Colin Farrell as Mr D’Arcy, an iconic image that informed the view of Firth as the thinking woman’s preferred eye candy. Aside from storming out of lakes Firth and his co-stars created a series renowned for its popularity among viewers of every age. As one might expect from a BBC production little expense was spared in costume design and the overall effect was of a faithful and highly entertaining adaptation. The film version, starring the Oscar nominated for her role Keira Knightly, suffered somewhat from having to condense what the BBC has spread out over five hours into two. Directed by Joe Wright this version benefits from a modern sheen and a talented costume designer. Restrained emotions in restraining costumes are the order of Austen’s day.
Sense and Sensibility 1995
The essential element of Emma Thompson is here from the very beginning in this Ang Lee-directed film released in 1995 as Thompson wrote the screenplay and won an Oscar in the process. Thompson stars as Elinor Dashwood alongside what reads like a who’s who of British acting: Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Tom Wilkinson. Benefiting from the award winning screenplay and Lee’s undoubted talents at creating an almost luscious landscape in the British countryside this is undoubtedly one of the costume dramas against which all others should be measured.
Emma, not the most sympathetic of Austen’s characters, is undoubtedly one of the most famous. Her character has been used in slices of pop culture like Clueless in which Cher, Alicia Silverstone, is a modern Emma, a do-gooder who places her own eternal happiness far behind the happiness of others less forunate than she. The modern film version stars a younger Gwyneth Paltrow before Chris Martin and Madonna entered her world. Again benefiting from a costume designer whose budget rarely saw limits this adaptation lacks a certain fire found elsewhere in Austen and adaptations of her works. One of the more insipid Austen-inspired movies this is best appreciated for its aesthetic beauty, disregarding what lies beneath.
Becoming Jane: 2007
Not quite an adaptation of an Austen novel this film purports to be the story behind the real-life events that inspired Jane Austen to write Sense and Sensibility. As period dramas go this is one of the better ones as reality does not seem the distant dream it is in other dramas. Starring Anne Hathaway and James McEvoy as the star crossed lovers whose plight to survive an inhospitable class system becomes the inspiration for the young Jane Austen, Becoming Jane is a marvelously assembled cast with a plot that keeps to the right side of sentimental schmaltz.
Tess of the D’Ubervilles 2008
The BBC mini series aired over November and December 0f 2008 and received mixed reviews. Again owing much to the BBC’s power of high production values and superb costume design the adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel also benefits from a talented cast. Gemma Arterton, of James Bond fame stars alongside Eddie Redmayne and Hans Matheson, together bringing Hardy’s intense and passionate prose to life. A must-see for any costume drama aficionado, and a rather pleasurable TV drama for those less passionate about the genre.
Brideshead Revisited is in Irish cinemas everywhere now!