This pretty costume has been around for quite a while, having been designed and created for Francesca Annis’ performance as Lillie Langry in the wonderful 1978 mini-series Lillie. The gown went on to be used again in the 1984 American mini-series Ellis Island, where it was worn on Faye Dunaway as Maude Chartaris. It was seen a third time in the 2001 film Original Sin on Angelina Jolie as Julia Russell. Each time the gown has undergone some minor adjustments - with trim being for Ellis Island and removed again for Original Sin.
The costume is currently online at Profiles in History, where it will go up for auction October 2014. You can see the auction catalog here. The auction describes the dress as follows:
This elegant costume is comprised of a long creme and black lace gown with black velvet accents, and rose-colored lace at the sleeves and bust-line, a black lace padded corset with boning reinforcement and hook and loop front and lace-up back.
Born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, Lillie Langtry was a British singer and actress famous for both her performances and personal life. She had affairs with both the Prince of Wales Albert Edward and the Earl of Shrewsbury and considered Oscar Wilde a close friend. Some speculate that Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), the first Sherlock Holmes short story, is based upon Langtry.
This beautiful Victorian gown is a wonderful example of the importance of both good alterations and using the appropriate undergarments for a period gown. It’s a true testament to the quality of the costumes that are reused and recycled over the years that they can still hold up well enough and look beautiful after two, three - sometimes even twelve uses. However, even a gown that is still in great condition after a long period of time will suffer if it is not properly supported in the method in which it was designed.
This Victorian gown was designed for Francesca Annis in the 1978 mini-series Lillie, in which she played the title character of Lillie Langtry. Her dress is not only stunning - it fits her like a glove and is supported underneath by the proper corset that gives it a very distinctive shape. The gown was used again in 1981 on Jeananne Crowley as Rossanna McGee in Cribb: Invitation to a Dynamite Party. This time it appears that it is supported by the proper undergarments, but that it is just a bit too large for Jeananne Crowley. The third usage of this garment was on Gina Mckee as Irene in the 2002 production of The Forsyte Saga. McKee may be wearing some kind of corset, though if she is, the gown is far too large for her and has not been taken in appropriately at all. The gown on McKee is still in relatively good condition, but without being properly supported and fitted is frankly unremarkable. It is fascinating to see the vast differences between its appearance in 2002 and 1978.
The picture shows the touching scene in the first act of the play in which Marie Antoinette, nursing the Dauphin, falls asleep and dreams of her terrible end seven years later when she was taken to the guillotine amid [the mob]. The tableaux is seen in the dark on what seemed a solid wall. The Queen suddenly wakes with a shriek of terror, the lights are raised, and the vision vanishes.
image: an illustration of Lillie Langtry as Marie Antoinette in A Royal Necklace, a play in four acts, by Pierre and Claude Breton.