If you’re a goth girl of a certain age, Winona Ryder is your kindred spirit. She is us, we are her. We can’t help it. Beetlejuice (1988), Heathers (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), oh girl, you had us at “I, myself, am strange and unusual.” And then, she did historical costume movies, and we could not resist.
The naysayers (I’m talking to you, Kendra) can complain, but she is my doppelganger. At least in my dreams. That’s me and Gary Oldman’s super-sexy vampire in Dracula, that’s me slyly getting Daniel Day-Lewis for life in Age of Innocence, and that’s me as a feisty Jo in Little Women. Sometimes all we want is to see ourselves in the movies — you either want to be the star or do the star — and Winona Ryder works as our stand-in. Her version of all these characters is imperfect, flawed, complicated, and that’s how it should be. She’s not a screen goddess, but she’s our quirky, moody, weird little gothic star.
Here are my favorite of Winona Ryder’s historical costume movies — feel free to add ones I missed in the comments.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray / Elisabeta
The Age of Innocence (1993) – May Welland
Ryder is underrated in this film because her character is such a goody-two shoes who almost becomes part of the wallpaper. And yet, there’s a strength and determination to not let what is obvious (her fiancee’s / husband’s emotional affair) destroy her own plans.
Little Women (1994) – Josephine “Jo” March
Katharine Hepburn‘s Jo holds a special place in my heart, but Ryder is equally good in a very different way. Ryder brings a nervous energy to the role that gives Jo’s story a defined dramatic arc.
The Crucible (1996) – Abigail Williams
This is probably Ryder’s best performance in a historical costume movie (despite the boring costumes). She is riveting as the young woman who stirs up the town’s girls into a witch-hunt frenzy. I’ve never found the book of The Crucible all that believable until watching this version.
Drunk History (2014) – Mary Dyer / Peggy Shippen
Hilarious! Playing to her strengths! It’s totally goofy, totally fun in ridiculous costumes.
Are you a fan of Winona Ryder’s historical costume movies?