While it was made in 2004, I discovered this movie in early 2006. It was, by some grace of God, on video on demand, and I am certain that I watched it at least ten times in the first week after I became aware of its existence. Some time later I was lucky enough to find it on DVD after a local video rental place closed down. Since then, I have watched the film innumerable times, purchased the script, and have made plans to go to a production early this summer. It's not a particularly common film, but it is absolutely worth tracking down for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is absolutely beautiful.
The movie is based on the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher, a period piece about Restoration England and the change from men playing women to women playing women on the English stage.
This is our male protagonist:
And so is this:
Billy Crudup plays Ned Kynaston, a real historical figure rendered here as a highly complicated man in terms of motivation, gender identity, and sexuality. His personal story as an actor attempting to adapt to the change in English theater is compelling, and he drives this film beautifully. Not only is Crudup handsome and empathetic in the role, but he gets to wear the most beautiful frocks and Restoration menswear. Seriously, look at that reddish-orange dress. Beautiful.
Crudup isn't the only one who gets to wear lovely frocks, however. No, our female protagonist (who, for those who explore both the film and the play, was once two characters) also gets some lovely gowns. Claire Danes plays Maria/Margaret Hughes (fictional and fictionalized historical figure respectively), and is absolutely gorgeous in the role. She, too, gets to wear the reddish-orange dress:
She also has some gorgeous frocks of her own, like the gown she wears in a portrait-painting scene that will make Restoration history geeks with an interest in art giggle with glee (hint: the portrait exists):
And, being common, she also gets some gorgeous peasant-y wear with lovely shifts and gowns that, while not nearly as flashy or sumptuous as those I've shown above, are still beautiful and well-tailored.
Every frame of the film is beautiful. Even the supporting characters are gorgeously dressed. Take one look at Zoe Tapper as Nell Gwynn:
Even if her first appearance is her wearing only a helmet and holding a naughty-bit-concealing shield, every costume she wears is fantastic. When watching this film, be ready to find that the king's mistress is not only one of the most prettily dressed people present, but also the person you are most likely to want to befriend. Tapper, alongside Rupert Everett as King Charles, is delightful, and the court dress often goes from beautiful frocks for palace dinners:
To a variety of costume numbers like this fabulous matched set for a palace musicale.
Every minute of this movie is filled with pretty period clothing and, while not necessarily historically accurate, it's a delightful exploration a gorgeous and not often touched upon period of history. One day, I swear, I will make a Restoration-inspired dress, and it is all because of this beautiful film.
Good friends, go to it. It's a film worth seeing.