In Love With Red: iconic film moments. 1: del Toro’s ‘Crimson Peak’

It’s a fact that I love red. I use it in my paintings. There are even those who refer to ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins Red’, though of course there is no such thing, no such magic formula. Just an obsessive exploration of cadmium red in all its forms. Any magic is down to the the way it responds to what accompanies it. Blues, greens and yellows all work wonderfully with red. The possibilities are pretty endless. Here is the first of my selected cinematic moments that rock with the red.

Lady Lucille Sharp in Crimson Peak

In director Guillermo del Toro’s gothic chiller, Crimson Peak, the first sight of Lady Lucille Sharp, played with icy hauteur by Jessica Chastain, is of her back as she plays the piano at a society party. Her gown is a staggering creation by Kate Hawley, a shimmering silken red, elegantly and ingeniously overlaid with complex folds and pleats. It’s an insect carapace, a sinister pupae constructed from origami.

The director on set with Chastain

The camera glides, closes on her, focusses on the geometries of the bustle and train, and then more closely on a ridge of elaborations designed to camouflage the fastenings of the boned bodice, while conjuring an effect of the wearer’s spine laid bare like an anatomised corpse. (A visual trope explored more obviously and viscerally elsewhere in the film.) It’s an exquisite moment of cinematic beauty… just one of many in the film… that plunges the audience into conjecture of what the garment is designed to reveal about the character.

Costume as art. Jessica Chastain with the red gown to end them all. Genius costume design.


Chastain is clearly a trooper. She magnificently rises to the challenges of her elaborate wardrobe throughout the film. Not everyone knows how to work a bustle and corset. Moreover many actors become clothes-hangers for garments such as these, whereas Chastain owns them, and works them to to the max. In the final fifteen minutes she sprints like a greyhound while wearing enough billowing silk to furnish a regiment with parachutes, and does so with impressive grace.

See the film. And if you’re not convinced by my recommendation (and I confess that I would pay the price of a ticket just for that iconic ‘red dress’ moment with Chastain), then read the erudite praise on this most estimable blog!


9 thoughts on “In Love With Red: iconic film moments. 1: del Toro’s ‘Crimson Peak’

  1. Pingback: In Love With Red: iconic film moments. 3: Suspiria | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Funny how things come together.
    Have just returned from viewing this film, an absurdly glistening opulent nightmare.
    Earlier in the day I purchased a pot of Dulux Red Stallion 2 to paint the downstairs loo, rather theatrical, it houses a collection of puppets.
    I am now having second thoughts!

    • I meant to reply at the time you left this comment. Mark, but somehow things got in the way. I like your description of Crimson Peak as being ‘an absurdly glittering opulent nightmare.’

      I like, too, the notion of a theatrical loo housing a collection of puppets. As a puppet collection owner myself, I’m intrigued how you’ve managed to achieve this. Please show and tell!

  3. Well, thank you for the shout-out! Yes, Crimson Peak is pretty amazing. It’s a baffling shame that it didn’t do better at the box office. I mean, I maintain a pretty populist stance on film, but this year has really tested that position, given what’s succeeded commercially and what hasn’t. I also enjoyed your look at FFC’s BSD. Another great design-driven picture.

    (Also, those some pretty bitchin’ paintings. My Dream Farm is especially fantastic. I’m glad I got the chance to find them and see them, if only in mediated, Internet form. However, if you ever get a show in Pittsburgh, I’ll be there!)

    • Well, Hunter, it was my very great pleasure to give you a shout. I came to your blog in pursuit of Crimson Peak images, and got sucked in by your wonderful piece on the film. Since then I’ve been a returning customer. You write about cinema in a way that absolutely rings my bells. Big, big fan, here.

      Thank you for your comments about my work. Interestingly, My Dream Farm has been around the block quite a few times. It’s a big painting, and that alone might put people off purchasing. It’s been in a number of serious public gallery exhibitions, and was repeatedly on the walls of my dealers gallery over a period of years. But no takers. Now it’s on loan, hanging in a fantastic Catalan restaurant in Cardiff, run by my friend Montserrat. I like the fact that at least it’s being seen!

      Really appreciate your dropping by. I’ll be referring to you here again before long. You are too good a source to hit just the once!

      Very best from west Wales.

  4. I do not go to the cinema any more, especially now that I am in a plaster cast and can’t drive . But I have pre-ordered the DVD from , and they will send it the moment it is available. Usually, the things they send to Spain arrive on the very first day they were available for sale. ( At least, that is what happened with my three copies of Marly Youmans’s Maze of Blood , which everyone in my family loved getting so soon after publication ).
    I can’t wait
    Thank You

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