by Thom Ernst Friday October 21, 2011

It's one thing to programme scary films on Halloween (which we will next week) but what network considers to program costume dramas.  It seems like an easy choice to make, and yet, it rarely happens.  I credit this little bit of brilliant programming on Shereen Ali, SNAM's ever so efficient co-Producer and film scheduler. 

The question remains, Halloween or not, why schedule costume dramas at all?   It does give us the chance to air A Man For All Seasons (1966), that's a legitimate enough reason in and of itself.  And it opens the door to airing Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), a film that earned a best costume design Oscar for Yvonne Blake and Antonio Castillo. 

Aside from granting us an entrance to both of these epic costumed dramas, the genre has further significance to the understanding of cinema as a social and political indicater of world history.  That may seem like a rather large weight to put on a movie let alone a singular faction of a movie, but consider how film uses the costume to establish time, setting, and character, as well as the juxtapostion between two protagonists. 

 This is a story about Thomas More, played by Scofield who stands up to his King, Henry the VIII, played by Robert Shaw, by denying the monarchy a divorce. 

It's a battle of wits where Royalty is garbed in rich fabrics and vibrant colours revealing not only a sense of privelage and status, but something close to being God-like,  The clegry, by comparison wears dark colours and simple, albeit impressive clothes.  The clergy's outfit suggest peity, purpose and, in some ways, humbleness. Here the costumes become very much part of the drama. A Monarch vs. an ArchBishop - despite both enjoying exaulted positions, and a claim to have been appointed by God, it is their wardrobe that sets them apart.  And not always do the better clothes win. 

A Man for All Season, swept the 1967 Oscars with Best Picture, Best Director for Fred Zinnemann, Best writing for Robert Bolt, Best Cinematography for Ted Moore, Best Actor for Paul Scofield, and, in a rather oddly specific category, Best Costume Design for a Colour Film for Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge

With Nicholas and Alexandra, a film that tracks the downfall of the Russian Czar, note the differing dress of the Russian royalty as the movie progress towards their decline. 

If it were true that a picture is worth a thousand words, than in the case of the costume drama, the clothes are the footnotes.


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