Pining to watch something that oozes sensual morbidity, gothic horror, tightly laced corsets, melancholy characters, and the backdrop of a gray and gritty England? The films and TV series featured here have at least one or a combination of these components. Although by no means an exhaustive compilation of cinema with a 19th-century dark edge, these are a few of the best contemporary works the Victorian Goth will fancy.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton is a master at conjuring up dark, enchanted realms. He’s also quite well-known for his stop-motion animation projects such as Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. The Victorian theme of Corpse Bride could not be anymore obvious. Besides being set in a dreary, gray 19th-century town in England, two of the main characters are aptly named Victor (Johhny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson). And what can be more gothic than a dead bride (Helena Bonham Carter)?
The film takes place both on earth and the underworld, and is dominated by dualities – the living versus the dead; the presence of color versus the absence of it; liberation versus repression. While reciting his vows during a moonlit walk in the woods, Victor awakens the deceased bride when he places the wedding ring on a root that turns out to be her finger protruding from the ground. What ensues is a fascinating tale that reveals that feeling alive is more than just having a pulse.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
A widely recognized character from Victorian literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is back in action in this film directed by Guy Ritchie. And not to worry, the gothic elements are definitely present.
Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) find themselves entangled in a sinister web of black magic woven by Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong). Although captured and hung for his crimes, Blackwood seems to have risen from the dead when his tomb is found desecrated and sightings of him begin to occur. As the plot unfolds, sadistic rituals, murder and a malevolent fraternity rear their nasty heads.
The Woman in Black (2012)
Based on Susan Hill’s gothic novella of the same name, The Woman in Black stars Daniel Radcliffe as London lawyer Arthur Kipps whose wife died years earlier during childbirth. The widower is sent on business to the eerie English town Crythin Gifford to settle the estate affairs of the deceased occupant. Upon his arrival at the mysterious mansion, it is not long before strange and supernatural occurrences begin to take place.
The Victorian mansion itself is a wonderful piece of art that possesses all of the elements of a haunted house. Visually captivating, you see draping chandeliers, abandoned rooms filled with children’s toys, unlit candles lining dark hallways, a decayed exterior and swampy marshlands shrouded in fog. With startling surprises hidden throughout the manor, the film promises a delightfully horrifying experience.
Dracula (TV Series, 2013)
It should come as no surprise that Dracula is on this list. What true Victorian Goth hasn’t read the 19th-century horror novel or seen Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film version? There have been numerous adaptations and one of the more recent remakes was the short-lived British-American television series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the legendary vampire.
Set during the late 1800s, Dracula masquerades as an American entrepreneur who travels to London to showcase his advancements in the technology of electricity. He also has an ulterior motive — to take revenge on those that cursed him with immortality centuries ago. Matters become complicated when he meets a young woman, Mina, who looks identical to his deceased wife. Of course the show doesn’t skimp on blood, fangs and erotic play. Although it was cancelled after just one season, the series will be appreciated among vampire and Victorian enthusiasts. It can be purchased on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Penny Dreadful (2014 – 2016)
Penny Dreadful is a Victorian Goth’s dream come to life! In this series, the 19th century’s most popular horror literature characters are brought together on the small screen — Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among many others.
The story takes place amidst London’s industrial landscape and centers on Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) who has lost his daughter to malevolent forces. With the help of the alluringly-attired clairvoyant Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and American outlaw Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), the three characters venture on a dark and dangerous journey to track the evil source that is pervading the city. Séances, tarot readings, science, plus religious and moral conflict nicely compliment the action driving the drama.
Crimson Peak (2016)
Anyone who has seen the films of Guillermo del Toro knows that he has a knack for the dark and supernatural. Crimson Peak, a gothic romance, adds to his fascinating repertoire. At the heart of the tale is Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring author who marries English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and moves to England to live with him and his sister Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Unusual events ensue as Edith becomes suspicious that the siblings are hiding something from her.
The film features the iconic gothic mansion; it is beautiful and grotesque, alive and rotting, and its presence forebodes sinister energies lurking in the shadows. Butterflies, which have had a long-standing association with death, are a prevalent symbol throughout the movie. The script is also filled with stirring lines, such as these spoken by Edith:
“Ghosts are real, this much I know. There are things that tie them to a place, very much like they do us. Some remain tethered to a patch of land, a time and date, the spilling of blood, a terrible crime. There are others, others that hold onto an emotion, a drive, loss, revenge, or love. Those, they never go away.”
Note: This article was written by Jennifer Vasquez and originally published by and appeared in Gothic & Amazing magazine.