Costume rant: BBC War & Peace (2016), ep. 6
Last episode! Thankfully, as with the previous episode, this one focused most of its attention on the plot for once instead of on extremely ugly frocks, so I don’t have too many nitpicks today, with only one scene being a big glaring exception.
I don’t know if this is supposed to be a dream sequence or an actual party, but I counted literally half a dozen pairs of colored formal gloves in this scene, everything from beige to burgundy to dark brown. I mean, I get what they’re going for. Helene’s got these gloves that are clearly inspired by these chunky yellow lovelies…
…but in a salon setting? Really? Yellow gloves were in fashion for a little bit there, but last I checked, burgundy was not a thing. And one pair of non-white gloves showing up at a party, maybe, worn by some eccentric hipster fashionista, but five or six pair? I call bullshit.
Also, what’s with the lack of sleeves again? Fashionable 1812 ladies aren’t to be seen in public with anything more than spaghetti strap gowns?
Anna Pavlovna is again up to her old tricks, which by now are getting very old:
Nice satiny spencer with evil queen collar and matching asymmetrical skirt panel. ………Sorry, what? This is still the 1810s, right…?
Of course, none of these things is really my greatest concern in this scene. I’m more grossed out by Helene showing up in a see-through nightgown. I mean, completely see-through, like some kind of ancient Egyptian look, except with weird Victorian ruffles and cameo:
Nice thigh gap, you buxom, pregnant, fleshy 19th-century beauty. …Oh wait, no, that’s Tolstoy’s Helene that I’m thinking of, not this stick-skinny little twit. At least if your actress doesn’t have the right body shape for her part, stop shoving that fact in our faces, please. This is like how Keira Knightley, the skinniest lady on the planet, is always being hired to be in period flicks, despite the fact that a woman of her shape would be considered pretty emaciated prior to the 1920s.
Now, if this is supposed to be a dream sequence, then okay, fine, Helene literally showed up in her nightgown. But with this War and Peace, there is no way I can give them the benefit of the doubt, considering their past record of abuses…
There were a few other problems in this episode, but they were less actively annoying than that party scene. Natasha’s hair is just an ongoing bit of stupidity, like most of the other female hairstyles in this production. The silly thing can’t even be bothered to put her hair up under her hat for her father’s damn funeral:
This is Amanda Seyfried Cosette Syndrome: because we couldn’t possibly bear to see our attractive young female characters without luxurious locks flowing all over their shoulders like fairy tale princesses. Screw period hairstyles, they’re just dumb, amirite, BBC hair designers?
Then again, at least when her hair is being luxuriously flowing, I don’t have to deal with her stupid turban, which makes a comeback in this episode.
This time it looks like a sweat-rag that she wrapped around her head to do some spring cleaning. Again, this is a period turban:
What Natasha’s wearing, by contrast, brings back fresh memories from another waifish Lily James role…
Marya Bolkonskaya had a few iffy ones this week. This one had one thing going for it and one thing going against it:
That neckline yoke is bizarre, but the little Renaissance-style poofs on the inside of the sleeves actually aren’t too unlike something you might see on a historically-influenced 1810s dress.
This one has been seen before in this series:
I let it go at the time, but I simply can’t this time, since it was used for a large part of this episode. What the hell are those dark red lacy things on her décolletage and sleeves? Huuuuh? Just weird, like that Natasha costume back in episode 3 that looked like a ren faire costume–these sleeves are like the “dark mistress” goth version of a ren faire costume.
Speaking of lacy things, this is also a no:
Look at that Little House on the Prairie collar…! Which decade is this supposed to be, again?
I’ll finish my generally cruel treatment of this miniseries with an example of messing with period costumes in a way that is actually somewhat clever and pretty, even if it probably never would’ve happened in 1812:
Marya Bolkonskaya here is wearing a dress that, from the back at least, conforms to most of the basic requirements of an 1812/1813 dress, with the exception of the sleeves, which are straight out of the 1730s-1740s:
Not sure why the designers went for this, but I can’t say I’m not a little impressed by their creativity. And at least this fashion could conceivably be revived as an historicism in the 1810s, as opposed to flapper outfits, which, um, couldn’t have been integrated into 1810s fashion without the aid of a time machine.
And, finally, the most unexpected surprise of all in this episode: a real, actual period costume…!
And on Mlle Bourienne, of all people! They literally waited till the last half-hour of this miniseries to bring out a costume that I really can’t find much at all to complain about…! Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles–we’re in the 1810s, and so is this costume!
Welp, all in all, how to sum up this version of War and Peace? I can say that the adaptation was rushed and often bizarre, with a bit too much boobs&butt for my taste, but it definitely had its nice moments from time to time. Pierre and Marya Bolkonskaya probably got the majority of these poignant scenes, though the comparative skill of the actors in those roles may have had something to do with the effectiveness of their scenes…
I must say that the adaptation suffered greatly from the costumes, which varied from sloppy at best to wrong century at worst. I’ve never watched a period show in which the costumes were so wrong overall that I actually found them actively distracting from the plot. I shuddered every time Anna Pavlovna made an appearance and dreaded every scene I knew Helene would be in. I wish I knew how this painful situation came about. It has to have been a conscious decision on the part of the designer(s)/director, because it’s not like the BBC hasn’t previously made a ton of series set in this period, including, well, War and Peace. But why make the creative choice to be anachronistic? It isn’t as if this production was intended as some kind of experimental theatre or something–it’s not Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. It was supposed to be a straight-up adaptation…wasn’t it? And if it was, why sabotage the main selling point? I mean, lots of people watch costume dramas for, well, the costumes. Why mess with that sure thing? I can only suppose that they thought that if they made half the costumes look like Downton Abbey costumes, it would serve as a literal way of easing Downton Abbey fans’ withdrawal, and if that’s the case, I find that pretty gross as a design philosophy. So while I hope it’s nothing so petty and cynical as that, I can’t think of any other reason why they would keep trying to make an 1812 dress look like a 1912 dress, or–God forbid–a 1922 or 1932 dress.
At any rate, it’s over now. Now all us War and Peace fans can concentrate on looking forward to Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway, a show with costumes that are thankfully out of the realm of historical critique. :)