(Another “I remember in Art History” post. Sorry?)
Watching parts of A Knight’s Tale reminded me of this essay I wrote about Medieval costume and jewellery. My professor wanted to use that essay as an example to future students, and I’ve coasted ever since. It’s been three years, and after that have been coffee table books about the history of fashion as well as late nights watching Trashopolis. So take half of what I say with a grain of salt, including the part that the a certain percentage of production of clothing in that time had a trickle down system and that some of the clothes worn by the serfs are hand-me-downs from the royals, accounting for how ratty some of the clothes looked. I can’t even imagine living back then with that garbled factoid in my head.
The language of clothing is pretty interesting here with William Thatcher/Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger) and Jocelyn Shannyn Sossamon) wearing thin, loose, flexible fabrics, exuding the lightheartedness and youth of the film. We’re reminded of that young innovation when Kate the blacksmith gives Will a thinner but stronger armor. Or when William plays with a red rose in a short sleeved tunic.
I remember other Medieval flicks having thicker fabrics with bolder colours. A servant boy had a greener tunic than Ulrich, but the latter’s tunic had better detailing. But the darker, thicker and more layered the clothes, the more serious the character’s business is. For example, bellowing Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) always wears a jacket and Adhemar’s (Rufus Sewell) is darker and more broody.
Of course, Jocelyn’s costumes are more anachronistic than the rest. She dyes her hair punk red and the tunics hang more like South Asian costume. There’s even one part of the movie where she wears a Regency looking hat and a Turandot-esque headdress.
Films like this try to ease its audience in its anachronisms and it works in this case. I like the clothes and the music, I’m just observing. I also like the colour-blind casting of Sossamon, and despite her emotional limits, who else can play a slender punky noblewoman other than her? If anything, the most fatal flaw would be how needy Jocelyn got in her relationship with Ulrich.
Costume designer Caroline Harris is also responsible for the costumes in Othello ’95, making it into my list of movies I will see one of these days.
Also, this is my primary resource for my medieval costume essay.