Style in Film: ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’

I’ve recently watched again both Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Plein Soleil, the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, starring Alain Delon. Although four decades apart and with a different approach, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) is a classic in its own right and in my opinion a better movie than the 1960 version* (see bottom page note). It is a brilliant film and this blog post is dedicated to the style in The Talented Mr. Ripley as a whole, as I can not separate the film making and the setting from the fashion. Its beauty reminds me to a certain extent of Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch A Thief’: set on the Amalfi Coast and the Italian Riviera, and on the French Riviera respectively, in approximately the same period of time.

The cinematography, by John Seale, is truly amazing and the film is so well built, unnoticingly flowing for two hours and twenty minutes, taking us from the beach resorts bathed in sunlight, with the picturesque villas and their light interiors and terraces overlooking the calm and blue seas at the beginning of the movie, to Rome and Venice, when the weather suddenly shifts and we are presented with heavily decorated hotel rooms, in perfect accordance with the succession of events.

And, finally, the clothes. Ann Roth and Gary Jones were the costume designers, who were nominated for an Oscar for their work. So much of the story telling lies in the clothes, which is why I enjoy so much talking about fashion in film. Tom Ripley, brilliantly played by Matt Damon, wears simple, plain attire, which evokes his working class background (we often see him in his worn-out brown corduroy jacket) and which at the same time helps his deceitful character, blending in without being noticed, hoping for an acceptance and making his way into the world of an upper class. And he always wears his glasses, except when he impersonates Dickie.

Tom is completely outshone by the charismatic Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law is perfect for the role) and becomes infatuated with him, which eventually drives him to extreme actions. Dickie’s clothes describe so well his self-confidence and his leisury and luxurious lifestyle. Knitted polo shirts, white linen trousers, linen blazers, colourful printed shorts and espadrilles, the perfect summer wardrobe, but one of the finest quality. He has a very individual style, loves to wear hats and jewelry and has his suits tailor-made at a famous sartoria in Rome, where he promises to take Tom to buy him a new jacket, but in the end he doesn’t. The talented Mr. Ripley succeeds to copy his style to the tiniest detail after all; Tom becomes Dickie.

Isn’t this photo above overwhelming?

Above: it speaks a thousand words.

Although Dickie’s wardrobe is the one that first comes to mind when you think about the film, the most suggestive costumes in helping advance the plot are Marge Sherwood’s, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Her style gradually changes from the carefree resortwear compiled of flirty mid-length printed skirts, bikinis and white shirts tied at the waist or worn over bathing suits, that so well describe the comfortable and easy life she and Dickie have been living, to more serious outfits, sophisticated day-wear (ladylike dresses, trenches, scarves, gloves and compact totes, it’s the 50s after all) and a gorgeous blue evening dress with string bows at the back that she wears to the opera, as the plot darkens and her love life comes to pieces.

There is also Meredith Logue, Cate Blanchett, in a supporting but significant role. She is an American socialite travelling the world. Her belted full skirts, cashmere sweaters and throws-on, berets, red lips and a gorgeous pair of espadrilles I would love to own nicely delineate her character, which was created for the film by Anthony Minghella, who also wrote the script. There’s a suspenseful turn in the plot whenever she makes an entrance. The Talented Mr. Ripley is enthralling from start to end and, as I have said at the beginning of the article, a classic, timeless in every aspect.

photos: screen stills from the film, captured by me; kindly link back to classiq if you would like to use any of these images; production credits
* Update: In my more recent article on the style in Plein soleil, I’m challenging this idea.


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