“The House of Eliott” is a lavish and lush treat for anyone who loves the beautifully detailed BBC costume dramas traditionally showcased on “Masterpiece Theater” or (of late) on the A&E channel. I’ve never been able to figure out why the Brits do this sort of thing so consistently well, but American producers attempting the same thing more often fall flat. Attention to detail, I think… or a total willingness to put the acting company in authentic costumes and hairdos that may look distinctly odd, or unattractive to conventional modern eyes.

This three-season long series aired originally from 1991-1994 and follows the fortunes of the Eliott sisters, Beatrice “Bea”, (Stella Gonet) and Evangeline “Evie” (Louise Lombard) who are left apparently impoverished by sudden death of their domineering father early in 1920s London. Bea) is thirty-year old spinster who has raised her seventeen-year old sister after the death of their mother. Neither of them have any professional training, only the usual education thought fit for a middle-class woman of the time, no prospects for marriage… and no money.

But Bea has the experience of running a household, and Evie is a skilled amateur artist… and they are accustomed to making their own clothes. They are fiercely determined to be independent, to have successful lives on their own… and with the aid of a circle of friends they are able to establish a small couture firm; the “House of Elliot”. The series follows the sisters’ business and personal ups and downs, and those of their circle of friends and employees. Bea and Evie clash with each other, over what they want to focus on with their business, just as often as they agree. It’s soap-opera-ish but briskly paced. The details of period fashion are exquisite and fascinating, as the sisters very gradually develop confidence and style of their own, moving from dowdy post-war styles that seem a hangover from the age of Victoria, to very chic, jewel-colored clothes befitting the owners of a notable haute couture house.

So much of our current culture landscape was just coming into flower in the 1920s. Mass entertainment like the movies, radio and recorded music, the retail fashion trade, telephones and commercial air transport, the near-universal utility of automobiles, and women pursuing independent careers and balancing that with a family life. The world of the Eliott sisters looks just enough like ours to be familiar… but just different enough to be intriguing. But one absolutely timeless, brief scene of an elegant Evie Eliott, in high heels and a knee-length skirt, sashaying briskly along a London sidewalk is a reminder of how swiftly expectations of what a woman should be, and those that a woman had of herself had changed in a bare two decades.

My one criticism is that the third series seems oddly truncated, as if the story arc just abruptly ended in mid-point. There were set-ups and situations in the last two episodes that were just left dangling, as if the plug was pulled before the writers could tie them all together with one satisfactory conclusion, or as if there was supposed to be one more season, to carry the story to a logical conclusion… say, with the beginning of the Depression that put paid to the flamboyant and glittering decade of the 1920s.

The “bonus” extras are hidden away on the first disc of each series: stills of the cast of each season, and of various movie and television credits. There is a recent interview with Louise Lombard, and a brief and rather disappointing feature on fashion of the 1920ies which would have been much improved with stills of the various costumes actually used in the series. And do not miss Minnie Driver in a bit-part in episode 4 of the first season. All in all, the series is as rich and as lavish a treat as a showing the Eliott sisters fashion collections.

“The House of Eliott” complete DVD series will be available available from www.acornmedia.com and from Amazon.com.

Sgt. Mom is a freelance writer who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her most recent book is available here.

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