The First Great Train Robbery_Sutherland, Sean Connery_frock coat walking.bmp © 2009 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

The First Great Train Robbery: Sean Connery’s Victorian Coat

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 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • barry kennedy

    i first saw this film in paington devon in 1979 at a little cinema that no longer exsist it is a very good film well made and well acted the period clohing and scenery is stunning ihave today wactch the film again 5 star rating for this film

  • M. McCarty

    The coat Connery is wearing is wearing is an English Walking coat. Unlike a Frock it cuts away in the front slightly, though not as much as a Morning coat. Sutherland is wearing a single-breasted Frock coat. Some of the most outstanding garments in the the film are the outwear coat worn by Sutherland.
    This picture exhibits some of the finest and most unique recreated mid-19th century men’s clothing shown on film. I could (and do) watch it over and over again.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Thanks for your comment, M.McCarty.

      It has been a while since I wrote (and revisited) this article. In all honesty, as with many of this site’s very early posts, it does need a thorough updating.

      In hindsight I can see that you are correct, the sloping front does suggest that Sean Connery is not wearing a frock coat. I must admit I have never come across the term ‘walking coat’ before, certainly not in specifics. It does look to be a variation on the morning coat, although, as you say, not cut away as severely.

  • meagain

    For shame. No padded shoulders in the 19th century. The frock coats in this movie are an anachronism.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Sigh.