Need to get lost in a costume drama right now? I know I do; for those of us who love clothing-as-artistry, there’s nothing like disappearing into a sumptuous outfit extravaganza. The past few years have brought us some gems in that department — take a look at “Black Panther,” “The Favourite,” “Little Women” and “Phantom Thread” if you missed any of them — but I went a bit further back, to find some glorious eye candy.
“Anna Karenina” (2012); costumes designed by Jacqueline Durran; available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes
Not everyone loved Joe Wright’s wildly theatrical version of the Tolstoy classic — but oh, those costumes. Durran took inspiration from the 1950s (yes, this Anna is wearing Chanel jewelry, even though she’s in 19th-century Russia) and the result was a dazzling whirl of tulle-and-silk ballgowns, fur-trimmed coats, enormous skirts and dusty rainbow hues; something beautiful in every frame.
“The Aviator” (2004), designed by Sandy Powell; available on Hulu, Amazon, iTunes
Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film depicted the life of Howard Hughes, with much of it taking place in 1920s-40s Hollywood — a rich setting for a costumer, particularly since the film featured Katharine Hepburn (played by Cate Blanchett), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale), Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani) and other glamorous Tinseltown figures. Fun fact: Powell re-created one of Blanchett’s costumes for the film for herself to wear to the Oscars.
“Belle” (2013); costumes designed by Anushia Nieradzik; available on Amazon, iTunes
This period drama, from British filmmaker Amma Asante, didn’t get much notice when it was released in early 2014; pity, as it was lovely in all respects. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a biracial woman in 18th-century England, raised by her nobleman father’s family after her mother’s death. The costumes — elaborate dresses with fluted sleeves, overskirts and detailed bodices — took inspiration from art of the period, including a 1779 painting picturing the real-life woman who inspired the movie.
“Carol” (2015); costumes designed by Sandy Powell; available on Amazon, iTunes
Powell and Blanchett have collaborated often (also see the gloriously detailed “Cinderella”); here, the story is a haunting 1950s lesbian romance from filmmaker Todd Haynes, and the clothing was inspired by vintage fashion but mostly created anew. Blanchett wears the pale fur coats, perfectly fitted suits, small hats and slender silhouettes of a quietly elegant ’50s woman; you can almost smell her expensive perfume.
“Coco Before Chanel” (2009), costumes designed by Catherine Leterrier; available on Amazon, iTunes
Audrey Tautou (“Amélie”) stars in this elegant biopic, from French filmmaker Anne Fontaine, about the legendary fashion designer — emphasizing, as the title indicates, the years before she became a legend. There’s a breathtaking parade of authentic Chanel couture at the end, but most of the film is meticulous period costume from Leterrier, who beautifully conveyed how Chanel, in the simplest of gowns, could make every other woman in the room look overdone.
“Elizabeth” (1998), costumes designed by Alexandra Byrne; available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes
Byrne, a five-time Oscar nominee, is an expert in period costumes, particularly Elizabethan (see her work also in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “Mary Queen of Scots”). In this 1998 film, you can see where it all began — it was only Byrne’s second feature film — and you can also revel in the glory that is young Cate Blanchett, still in her 20s, bedecked in regal gowns of red and gold, elaborate crowns and ruffs, and one haunting, meticulously detailed all-white ensemble, matching her made-up complexion.
“Hero”/ “House of Flying Daggers” / “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2002/2004/2007); costumes designed by Emi Wada (first two films), Jessie Dai and Chung Man Lee (third film); all available on Amazon and iTunes, “Hero” also available on Hulu
This lavish period action-film trio from master Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou blooms with riotous color; if you watch any of them on a gray day, you might have a hard time stepping back into reality. The costumes, blooming in seasonal hues, feature silken sleeves that whirl like weapons, embroidered chrysanthemums that seem to sparkle in the sun, and an empress (Gong Li, in “Curse”) swathed in gold, like a gilded peacock. Any of these movies will whisk you out of your too-familiar surroundings, guaranteed.
“Howards End” (1992), costumes designed by Jenny Beavan and John Bright; available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes
I knew there had to be one Merchant-Ivory production in this mix, and what better one to include than this beautiful, wise adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, starring Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter as a pair of bohemian sisters in Edwardian London. Should your fashion (and cinematic) sweet spot involve high-necked lace blouses, flowing skirts, linen dusters and Bonham Carter displaying absolute peak Enormous Period Hair (seriously, there’s barely room for her co-stars in the frame), slip this one into your queue immediately.