1. Possession (2002)
Loved and loathed in equal measure, this film is worth a watch if only for the historic side of the movie. I love the idea that you can chase down a Victorian mystery while researching (come on, obviously a fantasy of mine) but I find the modern side of the film a bit awful (apart from Tom Hollander, he's wonderful). The sections with Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle are utterly delicious, and feature a nice bit of mock-Pre-Raphaelite art on the part of Jennifer's girlfriend.
|Not Christina Rossetti and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Honest.|
2. Topsy Turvy (1999)
This is splendid! You can hear me singing along with gusto every time I watch it. It tells the story of how Gilbert and Sullivan came to write The Mikado, their 1885 operetta. It is also about the difficulty in working in a collaboration with someone who is the absolute opposite of you. It's about ego, inspiration, addiction, why hotels have bathrooms (even though frogs don't stay there), the rudest name for a prostitute (snigger) and genius. It is filled with stars who act their socks off. It is stuffed with magnificent costumes both on and off stage.
|Chinese, Japanese, Everybody Wash Your Knees!|
It's a beautiful film and very funny. I miss my kimono from when I was on stage with this back in 1991. It was lovely, one of the nicest G&S costumes I ever wore. The wig was very itchy, but one must suffer for art, darling.
3. The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
I preferred the book but the film has the brilliancy of Meryl Streep bringing the character of Sarah to life. She is a sort of mingle of Pre-Raphaelite women, silent, tragic, wronged and sexually charged. Again, like with Possession, I'm not fussed about the modern bits, although they do have some relevance to the morality imposed on Sarah in the 19th century.
|Jez Irons and Meryl get swoony in giant night attire|
4. Howard's End (1992)
It's easy to pick all the Merchant Ivory films as they are all beautiful, but Howard's End has a very special place in my heart. Not only does it give you two very unconventional sisters, Helen and Margaret Schlegel, but a wonderful Fanny Cornforth character, Mrs Jacky Bast (although it seems somewhat unlikely that she is married to Mr Bast). Margaret attempts to find respectability with a husband whom she tries to love but cannot ultimately connect with, but Helen tries to find freedom in love and life only to come a bit of a cropper with a baby on the way. The end is both tragic and optimistic (again!) and every time I watch it I find something new in it.
|Lovely Jacky Bast|
5. An Ideal Husband (1999)
There are a few versions of this, but this is my favourite, not least because Rupert Everett is perfect in it and I want every dress Minnie Driver wears. There were a few votes for 'Wilde' to go on the list, and again I do love it, but this gets my final vote because it is funny and sad, plus gives you a lovely glimpse of the artistic scene in the 1890s.
|Nice frocks ahoy! Plus lovely Rupert.|
6. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Swoon! Possibly the most beautiful 'white' film ever, this mysterious piece is as puzzling as it is seductive. The white dressed girls languidly vanish one Valentine's Day leaving people devastated and guilty. Definitely not based on any real event (despite countless web pages dedicated to how true it is), it is about sex, growing up, discovery, curiosity, alienation and possibly anything else you care to mention. That is the beauty of Picnic, it is all things to all people.
You can take it as a literal tale of a party of school girls who disappear on a school trip to Hanging Rock, or you can take it as a tale of girls vanishing and women taking their place, of burgeoning sexuality and the moral strictures of Victorian society. Or something. Anyway, it's possibly the only film I have a Pinterest board for due to it's stunning visuals which bring to mind Whistler, Klimt and all things aesthetic and symbolic. Enjoy.
7. Tess (1979)
Again, it would be easy to pick any number of Thomas Hardy adaptations for my list. Before settling on Tennyson as the subject of my Master's thesis, I studied Hardy with great pleasure and much love. I adore his novels and I am torn between three books as my favourite: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude. When it comes to this list, I had to pick Tess because of a rather odd Pre-Raphaelite connection...
When Tess meets her dastardly cousin, Alec, he begins his caddish seduction of her by feeding her strawberries. This act is a foreshadowing of him 'seducing' her in the forest later (I have no truck with the statement that he simply rapes her, it's not that clear cut, as the strawberry scene shows) and is very disturbing. I once used a slide of it at a lecture I gave on Hardy and film, and it got more comment than the naked Kate Winslet slide. Allegedly, the scene in the book had its inspiration in the story of how Rossetti fed Jane Morris strawberries at a party and what a strange spectacle it was. Sometimes it is hard to envisage how weird and rude something is until you see it. After seeing the strawberry bit in Tess, you are left with no illusions.
8. Gentleman's Relish (2001)
Gosh, here I go, descending into sauciness! This is a hilarious tale of a painter who is forced to abandon his paintbrush after his rather traditional, figurative way of painting becomes unfashionable. On the persuasion of his housekeeper, Violet, he takes up the camera to pursue his muse with rather naughty results.
|Kingdom Swann and Cromwell Marsh get some rather surprising requests|
9. Mrs Brown (1997) and The Young Victoria (2009)
A double whammy of Queen Victoria goodness and I couldn't choose between them so here they both are.
At either end of her reign, Queen Victoria is a fascinating woman. Placed on an uncertain throne with an untrustworthy mother and frankly appalling father-figure, it's a miracle she became Queen at all. The weirdness of the over-protective environment from which she frees herself, coupled with the pressure to marry the right man is such a rollercoaster of a story, filled with happiness and grim misery. Natasha Richardson makes a fabulous baddy, as always.
My second Billy Connolly choice of the evening is one of the most gorgeous love-stories I've ever seen. I've a real soft spot for romantic drama where the protagonists aren't exactly in their first flush of youth, especially when it is filled with so much gentle humour and feeling. His unswaying belief in her and her realisation that she needs someone in her life that will tell her the truth is a joy to watch. He loves her so much and knows that he will never get more than moments of her time in which to share her life. The scene where they dance gets me every time.
10. The Village (2004)
I'll finish on a possibly controversial choice. The Village is one of my favourite films, not least because of its astonishing visuals and use of colour. The beauty of the women's clothes and the simple exquisiteness of the houses is an absolute treat.
|'I saw something nasty in the woodshed...'|
If you get through all that lot, I also recommend: The Mirror Crack'd (Agatha Christie with Lady of Shalott references), From Hell (atrocious acting but oh! the colour of Heather Graham's hair!), The Prestige (I still go cold at the end, no matter how many times I watch it), Sleepy Hollow (The dress!), Hysteria (rude and gigglesome), Wilde (Stephen Fry was obviously meant to play Wilde), Dorian Grey (dear me! What a naughty boy!) and Albert Nobbs (brilliant and touching).
Coincidentally, M'Lady Stephanie Pina over at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website reposted her brilliant page of Pre-Raphaelite sightings in film and television as I was writing this. You can find it here.
Actually, I will just recommend one more film before I leave you. This one has no relevance to Pre-Raphaelitism or Victorian Society but I believe it should be compulsory viewing for all people who spend time online. If you use Facebook, or write a blog or live any part of your life on the web, please watch the documentary Catfish (2010). It is a sobering tale of how your relationships online may not be all you think they are and how you should never assume you know a person from how they present themselves via the internet.
Stay safe online, my lovelies and enjoy the films!