Costume Encounter: Sheridan Smith as Sally Thorn in The 7.39

Two-part BBC drama The 7.39 could have been your average ‘man meets woman and has an affair’ tale. However, the overall verdict has been one of admiration at not only the amazing acting from its star players but also the script, which took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout its glorious two hours. But again, often overlooked is the costume, in this case contemporary. The story of the female lead, Sally Thorn, played by Sheridan Smith with a wonderful naturalness, is particularly clearly told through what she wears (costume design by Lucinda Wright).

Carl Matthews (believably played by David Morrissey) is stuck in a rut. Tired of his job, bored with his family, he boards the 7.39 train to Waterloo each morning for his daily commute. When he meets younger, sparky Sally on the train, who is engaged to a man she can barely be close to, let alone marry, they develop a friendship which turns, ultimately into an affair.

The 739_Sheridan Smith mac full_cap

The 739_Sheridan Smith shirt mid_cap

Sally’s main item of clothing is a cream mackintosh coat by Zara. Chic, fashionable, serviceable but also a little clandestine, she not only wears this with her practical (but just a little sexy) fitted blouse and pencil skirt combination for work each morning, but also during her ‘down-time’, e.g. when she goes on a ‘date’ with Carl; she is in her trendy skinny jeans which only serves to highlight the difference in age but still takes the mac. She knows she is doing something wrong, yet it also is a security blanket for her – her faithful coat.

Subtly, Sally’s work gear becomes more dishevelled. Less buttons are fastened, to show a vest underneath her blouse, particularly in the scene where her and Carl get drunk on the late-night train home. This says a lot about Sally’s state of mind at this point – she is more comfortable with Carl and she is becoming attracted to him (before this scene they had swam in the gym pool and shared a sauna in their swimming costumes), but she is not ready to fully give herself to him at this point, reflected by the fact the vest is protecting her from exposing too much. Her body, and her feelings.

The 739_Sheridan Smith floral dress mid_cap-001

The 739_Sheridan Smith floral dress top_cap

When Sally and Carl decide to spend the night together, Sally goes overboard and looks a little awkward in her fitted sheath dress, also from Zara, which she chooses to change into at the hotel. It is classy yet feminine, with its floral pattern – exactly the image she wants to portray to Carl. Even her hairstyle is different, swept into a chignon rather than the practical pony tail of her work attire – this moment is important to her.

It is interesting to note here how differently she dresses at home with her fiancé, Ryan Cole (Sean Maguire), in her baggy shirts, hoodies and unkempt hair. She is comfortable with him, but too comfortable; she is bored, and doesn’t care about how she looks because she doesn’t want him to desire her.

The 739_Sheridan Smith casual mid_cap

The 739_Olivia Colman front_cap

It is also worth pointing out how different from Carl’s wife, Maggie (Olivia Colman, stealing the screen as always) Sally looks. Sally is blond, Maggie brunette. Maggie has very much an earth-mother quality with her dangly earrings and loose-fitting linens which look as if they could have been purchased in Morocco, whereas Sally has a preppy look, particularly for work, full of form-fitting man-made fibres.

At the end of the tale, we see Sally in Maggie’s role – that of a mother. She is dressed more casually, her hair is relaxed and she looks ultimately happy, which leaves us wondering if Sally and Maggie were actually more similar than Carl realised, but just a decade apart.

By Gilly Laverty

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.