Guest post – Katherine Clements on her favourite 17th Century Costume Dramas

Today on the blog I’m pleased to feature Katherine Clements, author of The Crimson Ribbon.

Here Katherine tells us all about her favourite 17th Century Costume Dramas…

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My Favourite 17th Century Costume Drama

I’m a big fan of costume drama whatever the era, but these are a few of my favourites set in the 17th century. It’s not a period that gets much attention on screen, in fact I struggled to find many that I’d recommend, so if readers have their own favourites, I’d love to hear about them.

The Devil’s Whore (2008)

This Channel 4 series first aired in 2008 when I was already working on The Crimson Ribbon. It takes a bold, broad sweep of the years of Civil War and Interregnum, weaving the adventures of a fictional heroine with real events, and historical figures, to create a story of love, betrayal and adventure. The impressive cast is what puts this above the others – Peter Capaldi’s Charles I is my favorite portrayal ever – along with dark, gritty production design that suits the story. It’s rich in depth and detail and, for me, improved on second watching. The writers, Martine Brant and Peter Flannery clearly love the period and manage to create an entertaining romp through the difficult, complicated politics of the period.

Charles II, The Power and the Passion (2003)

This sumptuous production, scripted by Adrian Hodges, is the kind of quality costume drama that the BBC can do so well. Rufus Sewell gives the Merry Monarch some emotional complexity as we follow Charles’ reign from just before the Restoration to his death. With only four episodes, purists might find the history often feels a bit condensed or abbreviated, but I think it does give a good overview. It also looks fantastic and there are some great performances – Helen McCrory as an increasingly manipulative, decadent and unstable Barbara Villiers is particularly great.

Restoration (1995)

I haven’t seen this film for years but I’m including it here, as the novel is one of my all-time favorites. As an adaptation I wasn’t totally convinced – changes to the story left me cold – but it’s hard not to be biased when the original work is a personal favourite. Having said that, it’s worth a watch just for the costumes and production design (it won Oscars for both). Just make sure you read the book too!

Moliere (2007)

I saw this film for the first time recently and really enjoyed it. Billed as ‘the French Shakespeare in Love’, the story is set in the 1640’s, when the playwright was part of a touring theatre troupe. The filmmakers cleverly make use of some biographical uncertainty, giving us an invented version of events to explain Moliere’s disappearance for several months after a stint in debtors’ prison – or so the story goes.

It’s pure fabrication, deftly employing some of Moliere’s own texts. It’s witty, fun and tongue-in-cheek but still manages depth, reminding us that the best comedy has the power to move us, as well as make us laugh.

A Field in England (2013)

Totally unlike all the other things I’m writing about here, Ben Wheatley’s twisted thriller is set during an unspecified battle in the English Civil War. Written by Amy Jump, the story follows the fate of four men who stumble away from the battlefield and fall under the spell of a mysterious necromancer. What follows involves hallucinogens, buried treasure and enough gore that, at times, it’s reminiscent of classic 1960’s horror. On the surface, the story seems to have little to do with the war, but the setting provides a perfect background to explore some relevant themes: society in upheaval, the corrupting effects of power, religion and superstition etc. Original, macabre and weirdly compelling, for me it captures something of the chaos and insanity of the times. Not one for those wanting a cosy costume drama, but certainly something different.

The Musketeers (2014)

In polar opposite to A Field in England, The Musketeers is about as crowd-pleasing as it gets. The first series of this big budget drama made no claims to follow the storyline of the Alexandre Dumas novel, or be historically authentic. But what results is unashamedly fun. Adrian Hodges, the lead writer, has spoken about the challenges of re-creating the classic story in a modern, fresh way. The choice to use characters from the book in original storylines, using accessible modern dialogue and plenty of humour, was a brave one, but it works. With lots of eye candy (cast, costumes and sets), unapologetically far-fetched plots and plenty of sexy, swashbuckling action this is great Sunday night drama. I’m certainly looking forward to series two.

About The Crimson Ribbon


“Based on the real figure of the fascinating Elizabeth Poole, The Crimson Ribbon is the mesmerising story of two women’s obsession, superstition and hope.

May Day 1646: Ruth Flowers finds herself suddenly, brutally, alone. Forced to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known, Ruth takes the road to London, and there is given refuge by Lizzie Poole.

Beautiful and charismatic, Lizzie enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to her world. But Ruth is still haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.”

The Crimson Ribbon is published by Headline and out now.


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