Trystan and I keep hoping Sarah — our resident medieval expert — will review The Last Duel (2021), the 14th-century-set drama starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer. Based on a true story, it’s about a real-life duel that was waged in order to settle a dispute between the husband (Jean de Carrouges – Damon) of a woman (Marguerite – Comer) who was allegedly raped by her husband’s frenemy (Jacques le Gris – Driver). I’ve got a vague sense of medieval dress, but nothing like our Sarah! However, she’s lagging (yes I’m giving her shit here), and I watched the movie and had thoughts, so here we are! I am going to do some research myself and force Sarah to weigh in on some things (to be fair, Sarah doesn’t love the fact that she’s the only one who has to review medieval films).
First, I want to say that I actually thought it was an overall good movie. It’s not torture porn, and director Ridley Scott does something that I thought was interesting: he tells the story three times, each time from a different perspective (first the husband, then the rapist, then the survivor). It was interesting to see how the same events could have been seen or remembered through different lenses, and reflects my own ideas that there are multiple truths and our own preconceptions and expectations can shape our experience.
Now that’s out of the way, I’d like to run down what I thought about the costumes (and hair, naturally) — which were designed by Janty Yates (costumes) and, I believe, Luca Vannella (hair).
Oh, the film is set in the late 14th century, with the culminating duel having happened in 1386. That’s important to mention!
The Good in The Last Duel
Many of the women — particularly lead Jodie Comer as Marguerite — wear their hair in elaborate braids looped forward over the ears and then up onto the sides of the head:
And HOLY CRAP, SOMEONE DID THEIR RESEARCH! Yes! This was a super typical hairstyle for later-13th-century French (and elsewhere) women! And the hair is UP! With Actual Hairpins!
When they go out and about, most of the women wear veils and circlets over their (styled) hair:
And indeed, according to The Virgin Mary and Female Rulers, Medieval Clothing and Textiles 12, “Married women wore veils … in the High Middle Ages they differed from maidens precisely by having their heads covered, while the latter had theirs bare.”
Kirtles & Surcoats
Here’s where I need Sarah to weigh in, because I’m seeing front-opening kirtles/cotehardies (I’m guessing that’s English/French terms? Sarah?) which seem correct based on my reading of this excellent overview article at La Cotte Simple. Okay, so probably they should be worn with an overgown too, but she is wearing these around the house/yard.
Sarah says, “The basic shape is good, but it looks like there’s definitely some kind of shaping like darts or princess seams, neither of which are period for this era. It also looks like she’s wearing a longline bra under these dresses.”
And then there’s some surcoats that look like houppelandes, which according to Tortora & Eubank’s Survey of Historic Costume (thank you Wikipedia) originated around 1360. The Tippet: Accessory after the Fact?, Medieval Clothing and Textiles tells us, “The houppelande is well established as being a full gown with sleeves flared from the shoulder…”
And the V-necked “Burgundian” style, which I think of as being more 15th century:
Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. I just thought they looked appropriately royal!
Let’s compare them to some contemporary images. Charles had just come to the throne in 1385, so most of these are from a bit later:
Le Gris’ Cape Swirl
Okay, I just loved Adam Driver’s dramatic cape swirl. It was VERY Darth Vader!
Commoners & Background
I thought the commoners and general background characters usually looked pretty good (minus the head necklaces in that one scene). Heads were covered, some of the guys were wearing chaperon hats, etc.!
The Bad in The Last Duel
So the counterpoint to those fabulous braids are Marguerite wearing her hair down and streaming. Okay, so she’s at home and these aren’t formal situations:
But Comer and the other younger ladies often have the back part of their hair down in some form:
According to the hair designer, this was all about showing you the changes in Comer’s character. But do I really need to show you a bunch of images showing that adult women wore their hair UP in the 14th century?
Occasional Princess Seams
Okay, so it’s mostly on the supporting characters, but princess seams were not used to fit dresses in this era.
Occasional Weird Fabrics
Ben Affleck’s Satin Shirt
Guys, I’m pretty sure this is a shirt. It’s made of gold satin. That is all.
When Marguerite gets prepped for her wedding night, her servant dresses her in a sheer backless strappy nightgown.
Is That a French Bulldog?
Which is a mid-19th-century breed.
Corsets? Push-up bras?
For a long time, costume researchers have theorized that the gown or chemise itself was supporting the bust (see for example this article on fitting methods at La Cotte Simple). The recent and fascinating discovery of the Lengberg Castle “bras” (see the research overview at Universität Innsbruck and this research article at ResearchGate) has revolutionized our understanding. But either way, Comer as Marguerite has suspiciously perky yet smooth boobs with a definite line across the top that suggest a corset or push-up bra.
The Ugly in The Last Duel
WHO THOUGHT TO PUT THIS VERY MODERN DUDE-BRO IN A PERIOD MOVIE?? WHY DID THEY MAKE HIM BLONDE??? (Okay, I read that it’s because he represents the patriarchy and hierarchy [see Discourse Blog], but I don’t care, he looked awful).
That Weird Neck Thing
WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE??!!
Sarah: “LOL WTF IS THAT”
That Hideous Leather Thing
IT DOESN’T EVEN FIT HER WHAT THE HELL. Is it a riff on the pin-tucked shantung jacket-y thing above?
So I’m pretty sure his mullet, scars, and pubic-hair-chin-beard are meant to help us understand he’s an oafish, slightly brutish character. I don’t care. He was HIDEOUS to watch on screen.
Have you seen The Last Duel? What did you like, and what bugged you, about the costumes?