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Dressed to inspire, astonish & impress

Finding Neverland, 2004 Kate Winslet

Movie still courtesy of Photofest

One of the exhibit’s most fantastic costumes is the silk night dress and robe worn by Kate Winslet as the bohemian Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in Finding Neverland (2004), the story of how author J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family inspired him to write Peter Pan.

Set in 1903 London, Winslet’s character wears this cream-colored ensemble, which was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. The long, flowing robe, which is trimmed in dark red velvet and gold lamé, adds an appropriate dream-like quality to the film. “The shape and the embroidery on this robe are just beautiful,” says Madden. “While it would be very impractical to wear, it’s certainly beautiful to look at.”

Another dress that caught Madden’s eye was Nicole Kidman’s costume from The Portrait of a Lady (1996), when she played Isabel Archer in Henry James’ timeless tale of Victorian betrayal. Designed by Janet Patterson, and nominated for an Academy Award in costume design, this costume demonstrates the character’s newfound wealth. “The beaded front panel of the skirt is a historical textile that was adapted to this costume,” notes Madden. “The use of actual historical fabrics in some of these costumes is fascinating to me.”

The one costume that captured the imaginations of both Madden and Spear isn’t a period costume at all, but a dramatic and flowing red gown worn by Lara Flynn Boyle as an imaginary “first lady” of a dictator in Land of the Blind (2006), a dark political satire set in an unspecified time. “It’s an absolutely lovely fantasy dress that most women would love to wear,” Madden says.

“It’s the centerpiece of the exhibit,” adds Spear. “It’s an absolute tour de force in terms of couture. Lara Flynn Boyle actually teared up when she had to take it off for the final time.”

To learn more about “Cut!” and other Heritage Museums and Gardens events, lectures and activities, visit

Joe O’Shea is a freelance writer from Bridgewater.

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