Not really a mystery, though it’s sorta setup like one, The Confessions of Frannie Langton (2022) is a compelling exploration of love, race, and class in Regency England. Based on a novel of the same name by Sara Collins, who also adapted it for TV, this miniseries is currently streaming on BritBox in the U.S., and it aired on ITV last year in the U.K.
In spite of some obvious (and less obvious) connections, author Sara Collins told the Washington Post this is more of a historical take than a color-blind fantasy:
“I love the “Bridgerton” effect. I think it’s really important, obviously, that we open doors to color-blind casting and opportunities for creatives of all–you know, from all backgrounds. …
But it’s also important that we — you know, the old saying is that you learn from history so that you don’t repeat those mistakes. There are issues that we touch on in “Frannie” that somehow have reared their ugly heads in contemporary society again. …
So I think it is so important that we try to do both, that we indulge the fantasy elements that are catered to by shows like “Bridgerton,” but we don’t lose sight of the power and the value and the importance of truth telling. And we’re really trying to combine those two objectives in this show.”
While the exact story of Frannie Langton is more gothic romance than literal history, the context and characters are historically plausible. The performances are strong, and this could definitely be Karla-Simone Spence’s breakout role as Frannie Langton. Her costar, Sophie Cookson as Madame Marguerite Benham, has previously been in two of the Kingsman films. Established frock flicker Jodhi May is also featured as Hephzibah “Hep” Elliot.
So come for the queer interracial love story, and stay for the fabulous hairstyles! Though it’s bittersweet because the designs were created, at least in part, by Marc Elliot Pilcher, who died in 2021 from COVID-19 complications shortly after winning an Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling on the first season of Bridgerton. According to several reports, the production was halfway complete when he passed. He’s credited on the show (thought not on IMDB.com, oddly), and the first episode has an end card dedicated to Pilcher.
The flamboyant hair on Marguerite, Hephzibah, and even Frannie at the fancy dinner are all reminiscent of Bridgerton styles, but they fit even better here in the late 1820s timeline.
In this series, the hair is less over-the-top because this story doesn’t have that kind of candy-coated heightened reality. Also, these are wealthy characters, but not hugely so. The hair gives an appropriate node to the period styles, and then, on Frannie when she works at the whorehouse with Sal (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), the hairstyles incorporate nods to their African heritage. I think these styles work beautifully as appropriate punctuation to the costumes.
Unfortunately, aside from a few moments, Marguerite suffers from Leading Character Hair or is it “she’s wild and unusual for her time, so she must have unrestrained hair” syndrome. Whatever, it’s a sad trope because it’s not “wild,” it’s just slovenly for an adult, married, wealthy woman in the 1820s to run around in public with her hair hanging down like this.
Sophie Cookson, who plays Marguerite, said in the ITV press pack, that she had a hand in her character’s costume:
“When I first met the costume designer Nigel Egerton, I had such a clear idea about what I wanted Madame to look like. She can’t be a wallflower in any way. You have to see her and know she is different. The first time you meet her in the book, Madame is wearing a very outlandish outfit. We went for these really dark, rich colours as opposed to the Georgian style of wearing pale colours. You see her and instantly think, ‘What’s going on with her?’ So it was a lot of fun to wear these sumptuous materials and be someone like no-one else on the street.”
No idea if that includes her hair, and I can’t find any interviews with the actual costume designer, so this is all I have to go on. But I have to say that this outfit with the reddish velvet coat and loose hair is the first time we see Marguerite, and it had me questioning the series for a moment. I was worried the whole thing would look just as sloppy, making it a slog frock-flicks-wise, but thankfully this scene is not wholly representative of the show. It is, alas, how the character looks.
Both for general dressing scenes and the sex scenes, you do see proper Regency corsets and undergarments. And Karla-Simone Spence, as Frannie, has no complaints, so much so that a Bustle interview with her is titled, “Karla-Simone Spence Has A Newfound Love For Corsets.” She said, “I loved wearing them and I still like wearing them today.” In the ITV press pack, she explained:
“The style back then included empire line dresses and corsets, which I enjoyed wearing as they helped me to understand how Frannie would have lived, how she carried herself and how she breathed.”
Right on, girl! That’s how you do it. Tell that to all the actresses who whine about corsets!
Almost all the male characters are assholes, and their costumes are standard-issue Regency men’s stuff. Except for Olaudah “Laddie” Cambridge (Patrick Martins).
Will you be watching The Confessions of Frannie Langton (2022)?