Cinematographic Art: Top Favourite Red Dresses in Period Dramas

  • The Art of Cinematography

‘Film’ derives from silent movies and it relies more on image than on sound or the spoken word. The pictures have their own grammar, their own logic and we have to learn to read them, to decode their meaning. The film language includes especially the  mise-en-scène (the visual elements on the screen – setting, lighting, symbols, costumes and make-up). Therefore, the costumes have their own story. In what follows, you will see how much a red dress does matter!

1. Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina (2012)

Set in a fantasy theatre world, Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright’s bold adaptation – starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law – sacrifices the novel’s poignancy for creative flair.

Why was Anna Karenina Filmed on a Stage?

Although risky for a $31 million film, Wright became convinced that a stage setting served as the ideal metaphor for exploring the confines of that society. ‘I just felt that if I were to make the film in the naturalistic form, I would be treading ground that I and others had tread before,’ he says.

Why Keira Knightley?

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Keira Knightley is very good as Anna, suggesting a new subtlety and maturity in her acting. She is the artless wife and mother, married to a pinched and prim government official, Alexei Karenin. In this role, too, Jude Law gives a thoroughly intelligent performance. Bearded and bespectacled, he behaves like an ascetic or a priest who increasingly disapproves both of others’ weakness and his own enforced tolerance.

2. Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Moulin Rouge! is a 2001 jukebox musical romantic drama film directed  by Baz Luhrmann. It uses the musical setting of the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France. The film is the third part of Luhrmann’s ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’.


The year is 1899, and Christian, a young English writer, has come to Paris to follow the Bohemian revolution taking hold of the city’s drug and prostitute infested underworld. And nowhere is the thrill of the underworld more alive than at the Moulin Rouge, a night club where the rich and poor men alike come to be entertained by the dancers, but things take a wicked turn for Christian as he starts a deadly love affair with the star courtesan of the club, Satine (Nicole Kidman).

Nicole Kidman Broke a Rib During Filming. Twice!

After fracturing her rib the first time, Nicole Kidman broke it again trying to fit into a corset. She fell down a flight of stairs dancing in heels at three in the morning, and had to film the part where Satine says ‘A real actress‘ in a wheelchair.

Does Nicole Kidman Sing in Moulin Rouge?

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That is Nicole Kidman herself singing. The actress confirmed as much in an interview on Zoë Bell’s BBC Radio 2 show.


At the 74th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Nicole Kidman, winning two: for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

3. Michelle Pfeiffer in The Age of Innocence (1993)

Brutality beneath Manners

‘It was the spirit of it — the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman’s hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year.’, says Martin Scorsese, the film director of The Age of Innocence.

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He was explaining why the director of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull had made a film about characters defined by the social codes of New York society in the 1870s.  Reading the Edith Wharton novel, you will understand that passion and violence can exist in places where absolute decorum rules; that Jake LaMotta, smashing his fists into the walls of his cell in Raging Bull, found a release that Newland Archer could not discover anywhere in the sitting rooms and dinners and nights at the opera that defined his life in The Age of Innocence.

The Story

Newland Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) is planning a proper marriage to the respectable society virgin May Welland (Winona Ryder). Then the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) returns to New York, and her presence stirs him beyond all measure. Ellen is an American, May’s cousin, who unwisely married a Polish count. The count took her fortune and mistreated her, she left him and has fled back to New York.

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Nothing in The Age of Innocence looks finer than Michelle Pfeiffer, sweeping up staircases as the vivacious and unconventional Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned from Europe having fled her womanising husband.

4. Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind, American epic film, was one of the best known and most successful films of all time. It enjoyed a more-than-30-year reign as the all-time Hollywood box office champion, and it won eight Academy Awards. Based on the runaway best-selling 1936 novel  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, the movie is almost four hours long and includes an intermission.

The Plot

The film tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh), the headstrong and willful daughter of the owner of the plantation Tara. The story begins in 1861. Scarlett is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), but she learns that he intends to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). At a party at Ashley’s home, Scarlett’s overtures to Ashley are seen by another guest, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Ashley rebuffs Scarlett, and she therefore agrees to marry Melanie’s brother Charles (Rand Brooks). War begins and the men go off to enlist.

Watch it and find more!

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How Vivien Leigh was Selected?

Hollywood was in the midst of a widely publicized search to find an actress to portray Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s production of Gone with the Wind .

In 1938 Leigh made a request to Myron Selznick that she be considered to play the part of Scarlett O’Hara. So, David O. Selznick watched her performances that month in Fire Over England and A Yank at Oxford and thought that she was excellent but in no way a possible Scarlett because she was ‘too British’.

Leigh travelled to Los Angeles and tried to convince David Selznick that she was the right person for the part. According to legend, Myron Selznick took Leigh and Olivier and stage-managed an encounter, where he introduced Leigh, addressing his younger brother: ’Hey, genius, meet your Scarlett O’Hara’.

The following day, Leigh read a scene for Selznick, who organized a screen test with director George Cukor and he concurred and praised Leigh’s ‘incredible wildness. Therefore, she secured the role of Scarlett soon after.

5. Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family in the post-Edwardian era.

Events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; the Irish War of Independence leading to the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series; the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series; the British general election of 1923 and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth series. Additionally, the sixth and final series introduces the rise of the working class during the interwar period.

Michelle Dockery

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She is best known for her leading performance as Lady Mary Crawley in the ITV television period drama series Downton Abbey (2010–2015), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and three consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

 6.Caitriona Balfe in Outlander (2014-present)

Outlander is a historical drama television series based on the novel series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the show premiered on August 9, 2014, on Starz.

This epic tale adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s popular series of fantasy-romance novels focuses on the drama of two time-crossed lovers.

Check it on Netflix!

Caitriona Balfe

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Caitriona Mary Balfe  is an Irish actress, producer and former fashion model. She is best known for her starring role as Claire Fraser in the Starz drama series Outlander for which she has won two People’s Choice Awards, two Saturn Awards, and an Irish Film and Television Award.


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