The Herald - The Herald Magazine
TV preview The not so pretty truth behind make-up in Georgian times
WHEN Alexandra Shulman left British Vogue after nearly 25 years at the helm, she published a memoir with the title Clothes … and Other Things that Matter. It was in part a history of fashion, and a plea for it to be taken seriously as a barometer of the times and society.
Clothes, hair and make-up combine to make a global industry serving billions and earning billions. Despite their importance in many people’s lives, they are too often dismissed as fripperies, things not worth bothering about. Yet we all like to look our best, even if the extent of our investment in ourselves is a new mascara every couple of months.
You have to suspect that clothes, hair and beauty are not taken as seriously as they deserve to be because they are seen as “women’s business” (though men are catching up fast). Balance is partly restored by Make Up: a Glamorous History (BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm), a new three-part series presented by make-up artist Lisa Eldridge.
Eldridge earns her crust in the absolutely fabulous world of photoshoots and fashion shows. Along the way her fascination with where the products came from developed into a interest for collecting vintage make-up. Here, with the aid of many a talking head historian, she takes a deeper dive into her subject.
Make-up is a hugely important subject, says Eldridge. “What we believe to be beautiful is a window on the world we are living in.”
She begins the series in the 18th century with the Georgians, “the peacocks of British fashion history”. It was the best of times for the wealthy few at the top of society, who used their appearance to signal their status and worth. The women had elaborate hairdos that took servants hours to concoct, ladies would spend ages with their toilette. They had time and money to pamper themselves and they did (as did the men).
Eldridge takes her subject seriously though not too seriously. The tone is kept light, with the presenter as likely to quote Dolly Parton (“The higher the hair, the closer to God”) as she is to touch upon revolution brewing on the continent, or the grisly driving force of slavery, the evil that helped pay for the pampering.
There is a science bit in the lab as she looks into the stark white foundation, ceruse, that wealthy ladies used on their faces. Ceruse
was made from white lead, a highly poisonous substance. Even when its ill-effects were known, however, women carried on using it.
The hairstyles and some of the make-up techniques are demonstrated on a model, Queenie, who barely stirs when Eldridge pops false eyebrows, made from strips of mouse skin, on her face. I would have screamed. Next week we move on to the Victorians and their obsession with “natural” beauty. I cannot wait to see how much faffing around that required.
There’s not much in the way of fripperies in the life of small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan, the central character in new drama Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm). Kate Winslet plays the police officer whose business is to delve into the sadnesses of others, all the while nursing a heartache of her own. Guy Pearce co-stars as a writer recently moved to the area.
Winslet was one of the first actors to spot the potential of streaming services in providing lavishly shot, high quality drama.
In the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce (2011) she stepped into the shoes of Joan Crawford as a mother trying to hold her life and family together as the Depression bites. Pearce was her co-star in that too, and Sky Atlantic will be showing the five-part series again starting tomorrow.
There has been something missing from Sunday nights, and we don’t mean the recently returned Line of Duty. Call the Midwife (BBC1, Sunday, 8pm) returns for an incredible 10th series. It’s really not that incredible. Since it first arrived on screen, Heidi Thomas’s tales of nuns and nurses tending to the poor mothers-to-be of east London has been a firm favourite of many.
Anyone still giving it a bodyswerve because they think it is some sentimental soap should give it a try. It is funny, moving and so warm you could make toast on it, but it also tackles serious subjects, including domestic violence and poverty, along the way. It has been a history of Britain and the NHS too, not to mention a guide to childbirth, with a baby, or babies, arriving in every episode.
In the new series it is 1966, and dull old Blighty is at last brightening up. Healthcare, despite the fight to establish the NHS, is still divided between the public and private sectors, with midwife Trixie putting in shifts in the latter.
Thomas, writing in the Radio Times, says she has been commissioned for another series after this. Call the scheduler.