Based loosely on the real life theft of £12,000 of gold bullion from a moving railway train in 1855 (though in the movie the amount had swelled to £25,000), The First Great Train Robbery (1979) features a hefty slew of period costumes for its modest $6,000,000 budget. It is also Michael Crichton’s best film as a director, adapted from his own novel published in 1975.
1855, London: most definitely a time of gentlemanly excellence. Before the lounge suit took hold in the late nineteenth century, the frock coat (or variations thereof) and trousers, whether single or double breasted for formality, was considered the only way for man to dress in polite society.
Even dastardly thieves like Sean Connery’s Edward Pierce had a reputation to observe – particularly as he was posing as a wealthy businessman who had ‘made a great of money in coal in the North’.
This simple, rather drab brown coat, not a frock but actually closer to a morning coat with its lightly sloping front, plus matching trousers is relatively typical of the time period. Considering the meagre dollars at the filmmakers’ disposal, Oscar winning costume designer Anthony Mendleson made a surprisingly thorough stab at recreating Victorian London. The lapel is not silk faced however, as it probably would have been.
Open single breasted brown wool coat, finishing above the knee: high, wide revers with four button fastening to the front. Stitched on cuffs, centre rear vent with two stud buttons at the waist seam. Dark brown braiding to the collar, cuffs and vent. Two hip pockets.
Perhaps roomier in the shoulders and arms than it should be for the ‘English style’ of the time, though Connery was a big guy so this may have been a comfort for the actor more than anything else. It might have had a ticket pocket by this time too. The jacket top button fastened and open at the chest is spot on for Connery’s companion Donald Sutherland however.
White brocade waistcoat, high closure with matching fabric buttons
Elegant, but consider the tartan waistcoat on Sutherland. Bold is not the word.
Mustard yellow silk cravat; Ascot tie with ruby pin. White stitched upright collared shirt.
This shirt is almost certainly linen not cotton (even for filming), as this was still viewed as a pauper or sporting wear fabric by the ruling classes.
Light Brown straight cut wool trousers, high waisted.
The trousers contrast not match the coat. Cannot make out the footwear, but he should be wearing half boots or possibly shoes. The soles do seem rather clunky though.
Black silk topper, pocket watch, walking cane, tan leather gloves.
A walking cane remained fashionable until the early 20th century when it was gradually replaced by the rolled umbrella. Gloves, chamois or kid leather in town and wool for the country, were essential menswear in the 1800s.
This whole ensemble appears to cover roughly 1840s-1870s. Donald Sutherland’s lively waistcoat would have been in full fashion during 1855. By comparison Sean Connery is more soberly dressed and, as such, more acceptable for the circles his Edward Pierce attempts to move in.
Also just a quick mention of the dapper black and white tweed cap Connery dons much later in the film.
For shimmying across the top of a moving train, or for the man about nineteenth century crime in general, simply nothing else will do.
© 2009 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.