Tag Archives: Costume Drama

Daughters of the Dust

Costume Drama Month is going okay, if a little dull last week. This week’s pick however feels like a dream. It’s more of a poem than a movie – and it’s deeply beautiful. It also inspired some of the imagery in Beyoncé‘s Lemonade so make of that what you will.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last bastions of these mores in America. Set in 1902.

Director: Julie Dash

Starring: Cora Lee Day • Alva Rogers • Barbarao

Who run the world? NANA

*Minor spoilers*

“I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence that you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name.” ~ Nana Peazant

1902, St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast. Here we meet the Peazant family, whose ancestors were enslaved on the island centuries ago. The small community of islanders who still live there have developed their own language and culture – and the head of the family, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day) practices African and Caribbean spiritual rituals like a boss. Their dialogue is in Gullah creole.

The island stories are for the most part narrated by the Unborn Child, the future spawn of Eli and Eula (Adisa Anderson and Alva Rogers), who Nana swears down is part of her too:

“We are two people in one body. The last of the old and the first of the new.”

Eula is about to give birth after being raped by a white man during a visit to the mainland, so relations between the couple are strained to the max. Eli laments to Nana that he no longer feels as though his wife belongs to him, while Nana reminds him that Eula is his wife and not something he can own. (Nana talks all the sense).

Both fear that the child about to come is not Eli’s – and Eula refuses to tell her husband who attacked her for fear of endangering his life. It’s desperately sad and later there’s a line uttered by the Unborn Child that reinforces this. Something like “I spent the rest of my life convincing my father that I was his”.

Don’t go chasing sandcastles

On this day however, there are other matters afoot. Some of the cousins have returned to the island from the mainland – to usher a number of the remaining family into their own travels North, where they will start their new lives.

Cousins Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) and Yellow Mary (Barbarao) are polar opposites – V is a devout Christian (and don’t we flipping know it) – while Yellow Mary rocks up with her lover Trula (Trula Hoosier) and is cut from a more bohemian cloth. Mr Snead (Tommy Redmond Hicks), a mainland photographer accompanies Viola on the trip to document the family’s travels.

There are many stories told during this time together, as the family catch up and gather around Nana, who will be staying behind. They are differing views and tales of woe – stories of triumph and success from the mainland. Eula gains strength from Yellow Mary, who reinforces her decision not to reveal the identity of her rapist.

“I see you!”

This beautiful poem culminates in the preparation of one final meal on the beach. Eula and Eli wax lyrical on the history and folklore of the slave uprising and those about to leave must make their final decisions – is it the right thing to leave now, or should they stay and maintain their traditional values and beliefs?

Daughters is breathtaking in the way it looks – the cinematography and costuming is pure perfection – and is rich with history. It examines truly brutal subject matter – from slavery to sexual assault – and has taught me something about a culture I did not know about and had never considered.

The Gullah are fascinating and fierce – and the lessons Nana teaches her daughters are mostly common sense. Her desperate insistence that they stay connected to their unbelievable history is so important and it wrangles at the heartstrings to imagine her left behind.

All performances are lovely but there’s a certain stiffness to some of the characters, though I’ll admit it actually suits them (for example, Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s bible-bashing Viola). Cora Lee Day is the stand-out as matriach Nana, while the wide-eyed beauty of Alva Rogers’ Eula works wonderfully. You want to rage against anyone who would ever hurt her, just like Eli does.

Although I’ve seen this pop up a few times on Netflix, I never would have watched it of my own volition so thank you Jill for the suggestion. I feel enriched just by listening to Nana’s lessons, even though they’re not meant for me.

“Eli, I’m trying to teach you how to touch your own spirit. I’m fighting for my life, Eli, and I’m fighting for yours. Look in my face! I’m trying to give you something to take north with you, along with all your great big dreams.” ~ Nana Peazant

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What does Jill think of Daughters of the Dust? Would she leave the old ways behind in a heartbeat or stay on the island forever? Find out here.

A Royal Night Out

This week’s movie could have featured in last month’s Based on a True Story month as well as this one, which is a really dull fact I realise. But it is ‘Inspired by True Events’ and that makes it pretty cool in my book, even if the overall product didn’t blow me away.

A Royal Night Out (2015)

On V.E. Day in 1945, as peace extends across Europe, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are allowed out to join the celebrations. It is a night full of excitement, danger and the first flutters of romance.

Director: Julian Jarrold

Starring: Sarah Gadon • Bel Powley • Emily Watson • Rupert Everett

*Minor spoilers*

Love a princess in uniform

It’s VE Day, 1945 and peace has just been declared across Europe. The Princesses, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) finally persuade the Queen (Emily Watson) to let them join the festivities, as long as they stick to curfew and go out incognito.

They must also be tailed by chaperones – but the Princesses take this as a massive win for their personal life development and excitedly hit London town in their best frocks. Their father, the King (Rupert Everett) makes Lillibet (Liz) promise to tell him how his speech goes down with the general public.

As soon as they arrive at the Ritz, the sisters are quickly separated from their jubilent chaperones, Lieutenants Pryce (Jack Laskey) and Burridge (Jack Gordon), who would prefer to celebrate than be working all night. Whilst they enjoy the booze and the ladies, the Princesses go rogue.

Pretty in pink x 2

Alas they’re also separated from each other and so begin two adventures for the price of one as the sisters try to find their way back to one another – and eventually, home safe.

Margaret, the more vivacious of the two, meets a couple of chaps and allows herself to be swept off to Trafalgar Square for a dip in the fountains, while next in line for the throne Liz meets Jack (Jack Reynor) on the number 14 bus. Desperate to catch up with her sister, Liz calls on Jack’s reluctant help to achieve her goals. Along the way she realises the toll the war has taken on the common man.

When Margaret ends up in a knocking shop, warding off the advances of an aggressive suitor, things take a turn (for the better I would say) – but will the Princesses be reunited before the King and Queen lose their shit?

Standing on balconies with boys

Honestly, this movie is sweet but it doesn’t do anything that exciting. The Princesses don’t get into any sort of japes that you wouldn’t expect. Bel Powley as Margaret is lots of fun but there’s not nearly enough of her character for my liking. Also, when the movie started I was excited about the lols the sisters might get in together – and there’s little of them in tandem until the end.

That said, both performances are lovely, as are those of Watson and Everett. Hardly surprising as both are practically royalty themselves. The knocking shop is my favourite setting and to be honest, thank you this film for not being judgemental about sex work. My favourite part is probably the spirited exchange between Marge and a group of ladies of the night, as they mistake her for a fellow working girl.

Jack’s story is a sad one but it is quite typical. While he has had his stripes taken away for him for showing ‘weak moral character’, he doesn’t do all that much to prove otherwise, apart from punch a few people. He’s nice to his mum Joan (Ruth Sheen) though so he can have that.

So yeah, the costuming, the setting and the VE Day revelry looks fantastic, the acting is great – and it’s got heart. It just isn’t anything earth-shattering about it and therefore I probably won’t think about it again.

You drive me crazy

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What does my princess think of this one? Would she leave it on its own in London or take it to her favourite brothel? Find out here.

Lady J

Yes or No_-5

This May we’re going to do costume dramas because we fucking want to. No other reason.

I do love a good costume piece, I won’t lie. All those heaving breasts and swishing bustles – delicious. This week’s pick is no exception and looks at broken hearts, vengeance and pure desperation.

Lady J (2018) or Mademoiselle de Joncquières (original title)

Fooled by a notorious libertine, a widow plans her revenge.

Director: Emmanuel Mouret

Starring: Cécile de France • Edouard Baer • Alice Isaaz • Natalia Dontcheva

*Minor spoilers*

Same, TBH

Madame de La Pommeraye (Cécile de France) is being courted by notorious pussyhound and libertine Le marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer). She’s having none of it though, preferring to stay friends with the boundless cad instead. After all, she lives in impressive grounds alone since her last husband and wants for nothing. She doesn’t need a man and anyway, claims not to be fussed about the whole love and romance thing.

Unfortunately, the marquis soon batters down her defenses and manages to convince Madame DLP that he’s a changed man, done with society, preferring to stay with her quietly in the countryside. Despite doubts expressed by her BFF Lucienne (Laure Calamy), DLP (as I’ll refer to her from now on) falls in love with the marquis and they embark on their new life together.

For a time.

A while passes and although outwardly our girl swears they’re living the dream, she is forced to admit to Lucienne that the marquis is leaving her to travel for work more and more – and she’s not feeling the love as much. Encouraged to confront him and put her paranoia to bed, she calls his bluff and claims to be questioning her own feelings. He is relieved and, believing she’s on exactly the same page as him, admits he’s not been into the relationship for a while and just didn’t know how to break it to her. But they can still be best friends though, non?

Nights in white cotton

DLP lets him go and the marquis does what all good man-sluts do – he goes back to slagging it up and being commended for it. They do remain friends but DLP has a revenge plan in mind – and she’ll go to extreme lengths to teach him a lesson. But first she needs to assemble a team…

Remembering a story Lucienne has told her about the illegitimate daughter of a couple of star-crossed noble people, DLP cooks up the perfect plan. She calls on Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), who has also been fucked over by a genteel man – and left with precisely nothing. Along with her lovely daughter Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz), she has been forced to live in a brothel and service anyone who comes along with cold hard cash.

Beauty is pain

Trusting that the marquis will fall heavily for the Mademoiselle’s epic beauty, DLP figures she’ll trick him into marrying her – thinking she’s pure as driven snow and deeply pious – then reveal that he’s married a sex worker, thus becoming the laughing-stock of Paris.

A simple enough premise, right? Well, I’ll leave it to the viewer to work out whether the plan works. I have a lot of thoughts about it. For a start, DLP is an absolute arse who has every right to be heartbroken and devastated by the marquis’ behaviour – but has no right to play with these women’s lives, even if they do agree for the money.

Mademoiselle remains almost mute throughout the execution of the plan, however is ignored and emotionally blackmailed when she admits to her mother that she hates DLP and does not wish to start a marriage based on such deceit. Both Mademoiselle and mother are treated like garbage, taken from the brothel to relative comfort, promised a healthy income in exchange for their acting skills. DLP pretends to care about them, to be sympathetic to their cause – but all she cares about is revenge.

Team Mademoiselle all the way

There’s also a double standard at play here (obvs). *Spoiler* – when the marquis finds out the truth about his beautiful and innocent new wife, he has a lot to say about it – abandoning her in the dirt and threatening to hurt her badly. The irony regarding his sexual history is not lost.

I hate that these women are considered less than just because of their professions. A profession as old as time* but in this scenario, by no means chosen. So the fact that the newly wed couple work it out and the marquis falls in love with his wife is the greatest revenge. Fuck everyone.

While I don’t like the marquis either, I like to believe that he learns to love and become a decent human being because of his sincere and honest new wife, an allegedly ‘lowly’ woman with the strongest moral compass of anyone in the story. GO FUCK YOURSELF, MADAME DE LA POMMERAYE!

The performances are wonderful throughout, as is the period setting and the costuming. I really enjoyed myself and was rooting for Mademoiselle the whole way.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What does my love think of Lady J? Would she banish it to the streets or love it forever? Find out here.

*Respect sex workers.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath (2019)

Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.

Starring: Keira Knightley • Jason Clarke • Alexander Skarsgård

*Minor Spoilers*

I always know I’m going to have a good time when Keira Knightley is wafting about in period costume. It’s just something I enjoy, sue me. Is she the greatest actress of our generation? Hell no but she looks good doing it and I like her, so there.

In this she is Rachael, the wife of a colonel stationed in Hamburg after World War II. On arriving at her new home, a grand house commandeered from a German man and his daughter, Rachael is shocked to see what the war torn city actually looks like.

Cheer up, love

She’s uncomfortable in her new digs which isn’t helped by the fact her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke) is largely AWOL, leaving her alone for long stretches. She’s further aggrieved when Lewis decides to let widower Stefan (super babe Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenage daughter Heike remain in the house instead of moving to the camps.

Heike is understandably fucked off to be banished to the attic of her own home and enjoys rebelling against polite behaviour. Lewis for the most part is a compassionate man who feel sympathy for the Germans while still having to bring the 88 (Nazi Party) to justice.

Stefan just misses his dead wife and wants life to go back to the way it was, while Rachael is fighting her own battle, the loss of her son who was killed in a London air strike. It soon becomes clear that Lewis has been throwing himself into work instead of comforting his wife (and facing his own grief), giving us more of an understanding of what’s bubbling beneath the surface of their marriage.

“I’ll have you know I give great head…”

When Lewis is required to go away for an extended period, Rachael begs him to stay for once in his life – to sort out their differences sure but also to nip her burgeoning attraction to Stefan in the bud…

In the meantime, Heike is getting into her own mischief, involving herself with the worst kind of bad boy, a Nazi sympathiser. You just know that can’t end well.

The Aftermath looks amazing obviously, while the chemistry between Keira and my boy Alexander is hot AF. As the two do a very poor job of fighting their attraction to one another, they also bond over their respective losses. Is this enough though for them both to start over?

Well, I expected there to be more of a twist if I’m honest. There’s quite a bit of hinting about Stefan’s own affiliation with the Führer and I wanted there to be more to the story than there was. However, the ending is sweet and hopeful, and although Jason Clarke seriously reminds me of a young, better-looking Piers Morgan, I was rooting for him.

Just one of the swishy dresses on display

This is a pretty looking lament on grief and seeing things through to the bitter end. It won’t be particularly memorable but isn’t the worst way to spend a couple of hours. Plus, KK wears at least three iconic frocks which will stick fondly in my memory. So there is that at least.

⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What are you watching?

The Happy Prince

The Happy Prince (2018)

IMDB Synopsis

The untold story of the last days in the tragic times of Oscar Wilde, a person who observes his own failure with ironic distance and regards the difficulties that beset his life with detachment and humor.

This is clearly a passion project and it is good but there’s something about it that didn’t stick as much as I’d expected it to. I’m not sure that this is the failure of the piece or my own but there it is. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for such a depressing end to Oscar’s life – perhaps I wanted to remember him as the quick witted poet of my dreams instead.

That said it is refreshing to witness his story from a less glamorous standpoint. Rupert Everett plays Wilde very well and I was interested in the way he played him as washed up and sad. The dandy part of Mr Wilde is long gone, he is bloated and coughing up blood, dealing with the PTSD of jail life, of how quickly his celebrity has been turned against him for his so-called crimes.

the-happy-prince-official-poster-1-e1516617863582

He has a handful of faithful friends and a new book in the pipeline but he is penniless and broken. When his beloved Constance (Emily Watson) passes on all hope of a reconciliation is lost and he fails to reconnect with his children. Though he’d wished for this, would it really have be an option when he’s still in love with Bosie (Colin Morgan)?

Via flashback we explore this relationship and the hurt left behind by his spell in the big house following his indiscretions. It’s not cheerful viewing but if you like period drama with dedicated performances then there will be something here for you.

My Rating

3.5/5.