33 thoughts on “How to (and How Not to) Film Hot Sex in Costume Dramas

  1. OoOoh, lots of pretty boys! And you’re a bit hard on Madame Bovary, since Flaubert wrote it that way… Of course, the fact that Emma doesn’t commit suicide much about her adultery but more of a cause of bad literature AND a terminal case of stupid is something that flies over directors heads faster than the Concorde. Admittedly, not easy to show. Flaubert is not a easy author for movie making.

    1. Madame Bovary is emblematic of a whole trope of ‘girl discovers sex but has to die’ that runs throughout literature & thus film/TV. Flaubert didn’t invent it, but his work has been filmed a ton, so he’s easy to pick on :)

      1. Oh no, Gustave was far more complicated than that! He used the trope, yes, but twisted it quite savagely. Madame Bovary is a masterpiece, if only for the reason there’s not ONE likable character in it, which is quite the feat when you think about it. And it was quite deliberate, Flaubert was not an “easy” writer… Maupassant wrote fast, but Flaubert was really sweating it. But yes, getting those nuances on film is almost impossible, so we usually get Emma taking a nosedive in the arsenic… Oh, well…

  2. Good consideration of a big subject. It’s me being a stage manager/tarot reader/therapist to the alternative crowd that had me read through every detail, I swear–you know someone will show up in drag of some sort, or have those difficult corset issues. or not know how to do some kind of performance dressed a certain way.

    As a comment on one of your points, I always hated the wrong-time-period music completely, always found it way too jarring and off-putting. To me, it’s either a period piece with period music, OR some modern people dressing up, and the two mashed together bug the crap out of me. Just sayin–thanks for a fun article.

    1. A little modern music can be fun, but so often I think it’s a cop-out. Using period (or close to period) music is like getting the costumes right — it’s part of the whole package.

      1. I agree. If I am attached to the period aspect, then modern stuff that doesn’;t even pretend to be period is justr NO, whereas if it’s just sort f eye candy all around, then fine, fake whatever you want, but I won’t take it seriously. Some thing with gorgeous young Heath Ledger (RIP) comes to mind–some crappy film maybe, but semicute outfits and semicute folks, and to me jarring music–

              1. Right-thanks. I only saw it way back when, and at the time my big question was ‘Was Satine supposed to be a complete nothing/idiot/eh/biggish fish in scummy pond, or was the actress just not so good?’ I don’t know what others felt about it and would have to see it again to reconsider the question.

    2. Beautiful, unobtrusive period music is one of many admirable things about “Wolf Hall” (apart from some odd physical casting). Sometimes the music seems to be soundtrack, and then you find that it’s being played by a few court musicians..

  3. Also thanks for the clear distinction between volitional sex and molestation/rape that still gets conflated. They are not the same, however dressed up or fast or slow or whatever the attempts to disguise it are..

  4. your points should also be applied to contemporary time sex scenes. I don’t mind the fade to black as much since an implied sex scene cop out is much better than a bad sex scene.

  5. On the topic of consequences, I also wish more historical films would show us birth control methods used as well. Because faulty as they were–herbs, douches, even condoms (often reused, gross)–people did actually use them.

    1. True nuff! I should have mentioned Downton Abbey, when Lady Mary makes Anna buy a condom for her so Mary can have sex & “test drive” Lord Gillingham. And actually, Downton gets another nod for actual consequences when Edith has a baby out of wedlock. There’s also the housemaid who gets pregnant by the soldier during WWI on the show & whose life goes downhill.

  6. This is a very thought provoking blog. You raised several salient points, distinguished between rape/molestation and consensual sex, showed us yummy men and women (VERSAILLES Louis & Philippe).

    You also included one of my favourite on-screen couples – Claire and Jamie and their wedding night.

    One thing I puzzled over on Downton was why Mary thought of contraception and Edith didn’t.

    1. I guess bec. Edith wanted to marry that guy — remember, he was just off to Germany to get a quickie divorce from his insane wife (or something like that) when he got killed & Edith turned out pregnant. But Mary had a plan to screw around before getting married.

    1. Thanks for bringing that up so I didn’t have to. It’s one of my pet peeves about frock flicks that have sex scenes, or even lingerie scenes.

  7. the reason for few frontal male nudes in the flicks is this. NO actor wants to be thought of as hung like a hamster on the screen. and Downton was PBS, so NO chance of ANY sex scenes.

  8. Maurice doesn’t just have decent showings of male bums, it has willies too. God bless Merchant Ivory.

  9. I love the one in The Three (Four?) Musketeers when the Duke is hooking up with Milady (before she steals part of the necklace the French queen gave him) and it’s just the process of them taking off the many layers of court outfits.

  10. Not just getting the corset off in five seconds, but showing a 19th century corset being removed by being unlaced. Loosening the laces, ok, fine, but there is nothing in this world that will take me out of a sex scene faster than the corset being removed improperly, and its even worse if the woman isn’t wearing a proper chemise underneath the corset.
    A good antidote to this is in Penny Dreadful, when Dorian Gray and Brona Croft have sex for the first time and he unfastens the busk of her corset. So hot. And so much hotter because he clearly knew how to get a woman out of a corset properly.

    1. OMG! YES!!! My favorite line from Hamilton is “hard to have intercourse over 4 sets of corsets.” referencing the actual corset, bodice, a jerkin and weskit….

  11. I’m by no means am erotophobe. I love a good passionate sex scene and period dramas were pretty influential to my sexual awakening.
    That said, I want it more in certain dramas than others.
    I like to watch a lot of dramas written my grandmother, so it’s nice to have a sexy lead up that let’s you know sex is happening but doesn’t show the whole gong, such as in poldark.
    Now the borgias or versailles, stuff I watch by me lonesome, I’m all for the whole shabang. Just saying, full sex scenes aren’t always the goal for the target audience – sometimes it’s more of a plot point (not saying the plot ppints Shouldnt be executed well, however ) and sometimes it’s just to establish a point for later in the story and I think it’s a little unfair to judge them for that.

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