Clothing: Edith v. Louisa

While I’m waiting for a much more significant post to be completed, I thought that comparing how Edith is dressed to how Louisa is dressed in S4 would be a good way to point out how clothes can be used to define a character, especially since TV and film are such visual media.

Here we have two strong, independent women who are brought together through their association with Martin Ellingham. Edith, the former fiancee and med school colleague, and Louisa the former fiancee and love obsession who returns pregnant following a couple of nights of intimacy. Both women have known ME in the biblical sense, or at least we know he’s seen them both naked. At some point both women decided they didn’t want to marry Martin, but Edith went on to pursue medicine, and even surgery, like Martin (and got married briefly), while Louisa continued her profession of school teacher and decided pregnancy was her future plan. In S4 we get the contest between them magnified by their skirmishes due to Louisa having chosen to be followed in Truro and Edith being the obstetrician who takes her case. The stage is set for fireworks and we get them, but in an understated way — and the clothing they wear contributes substantially, if subtly.

Apart from Edith’s bright red spikey hair and lack of any curvaceousness, she is almost exclusively dressed in dark, severe clothes. We are already predisposed to dislike her because we root for Martin and Louisa to be together, then they create a woman who lacks sensitivity for her patients and misdiagnoses both diverticulitis and SGA (or small for gestational age). (Admittedly she could have been using the SGA diagnosis as a way to elicit the information about Martin and Louisa’s sexual history. She should do a differential diagnosis and she has no business asking about the date they last had sex.) She knows the situation between Martin and Louisa and still pursues him, a decision that is disconcerting at best. On more than one occasion, Edith schemes to manipulate Martin to distance himself from Louisa and from Portwenn. Sadly for her, his disdain for some of his circumstances is overshadowed by his sense of duty to Louisa as well as his genuine love for her. Edith’s clothes accentuate her masculinity despite her impractical shoes. She is primarily dressed in slacks with a vest and jacket and man-collared shirt. In fact, in S4E7, Edith and Martin are nearly dressed identically: Edith wears a blue and white striped shirt under a black vest and slacks while Martin wears the same sort of blue and white striped shirt under his dark suit. Dressing them alike insinuates that in addition to being a surgeon who went through medical school with Martin, Edith is too similar to him (or too masculine) to appeal to him as a love interest.

She wears a dark dress with tan polka dots on two occasions, and at the conference, she puts on a white, ruffle front blouse with her trademark black slacks. This time her ruffled blouse is reminiscent of Louisa’s blue ruffle front dress she wears walking to the baby shower when Martin sees her on his way out to meet Edith. It’s almost like they’re begging us to determine which woman looks better in ruffles and, in my opinion, they weight it decidedly towards Louisa. The last time we see Edith is after the conference when she barges into Martin’s last day of seeing patients. She’s back to wearing a pin-stripe vested suit with grey blouse and unwilling to believe that she has lost the battle for any amorous attention from him.

Meanwhile, throughout S4 Louisa wears many flowered dresses with cardigans of various bright colors: white, red, yellow. Or she wears a variety of other feminine outfits, including a blue and white striped sailor style top with bow when she makes the trip to the hospital for another check up. Of course, a pregnant woman has plenty of curves and looks about as feminine as possible. Often people say that pregnant women have a certain glow about them and Louisa reflects that throughout this series. There is a major contrast between how each of these women behaves, and their clothes contrast significantly too. We see two assertive and self-assured professional women clash in terms of how their appearance represents who they are. Edith may hold the upper hand in that Louisa is dependent on her care, however, Louisa is the one carrying Martin’s baby and there’s no way for Edith to change that fact. (Unfortunately, we also may be seeing how female doctors feel they must dress in order to achieve respect in a masculine dominated profession as opposed to the latitude allowed women working in what is perceived to be a feminine profession.)

There are two standoffs between Louisa and Edith — one when they meet for the first time at the hospital and Louisa is wearing a green floral dress; next when Louisa has an ultrasound and is wearing the sailor top. I particularly like the first confrontation between them because Edith tries to belittle Louisa and Portwenn and Louisa gives as good as she gets. The second time, Louisa has fallen part way off the bed in an effort to get a better view of the ultrasound scan when Edith appears. Not only is this funny, but also it puts Louisa at a disadvantage. Most of us feel at a disadvantage when talking to a doctor anyway. In this case, Louisa is particularly compromised as Edith’s patient. She has to rely on Edith’s judgements as well as expect her questions to be appropriate. But Louisa is always self-protective and does her best to deflect Edith’s personal inquiries. To me it looks like Edith is somewhat surprised to learn that Louisa and Martin had sex more than once, and I would think Louisa got some pleasure out of telling Edith their intimacy wasn’t just a one night event.

In the realm of clothing, S4 is a really good example of how it can be used to augment the interpersonal interactions of a scene. I hope I’ve made a stronger argument for the importance of how clothing functions. The wardrobe for each character is a distinguishing feature before they say a word. We could just look at the clothes of most of the characters on “Doc Martin” and know, without seeing their heads, who they belong to. More than that, though, two female characters with somewhat similar temperaments can be dressed totally differently and still appear self-reliant. But, really, is there any doubt that Martin would find Louisa a more attractive choice after we see these two women together?

Originally posted 2014-11-08 14:16:14.

30 thoughts on “Clothing: Edith v. Louisa

  1. Carol

    Okay all I will say on this one is what about that “corset thingy” she was wearing in the hotel before her speech. I think THAT was what began to really get Martin ready to leave. I would think that Louisa’s choice for intimate clothing would be more along the lines of the white filmy gown we see in S1E6 when Martin is dreaming of her. And obviously if that is his dream, that is what kind of thing he likes.

    That corset thing – NO, just NO!


  2. Post author

    You’ve got my vote against that too. It’s as close as they could get to her looking like she’s ready for some S/M. It’s amusing to think she expected it to be a turn on. Anyhow, they’d first have to deal with his bed issues. Getting him into that bed wasn’t going to be easy no matter what she was wearing!

    I think we are supposed to think that Martin prefers chaste women. That dream about Louisa in the negligee occurred in S1 and they changed his character a lot after that. Who knows what he’s dreaming about now?

  3. Mary F.

    What about the dress Miss Edith wears when she goes out to dinner with the doc? Don’t you just get the heebee jeebees when she starts pawing her bony chest and starts moaning abut vaginal permiability? Is that some kind of weird foreplay or what? She’s about as attractive as a mosquito…..bleah!! And then out came that bit of poetry which he really wanted kept firmly in in the past…she was completely throwing herself at him, thankfully, to no avail. For once I loved his sense of smell when he told her she smelled of cheese…!

    The poetry intrigued me and it would be fun if Louisa found a stash of it somewhere down the road. What a great way to peer into someone’s heart!

    I do think you are right about the differences between the way these two women dress and carry themselves. Louisa is strong but distinctly feminine and Edith is strong also but she uses feminity as a kind of snare or tool to get what she wants. Louisa on the other hand is comfortable looking like the woman she is. She doesn’t have to prove she is capable and confident by dressing like a man. This may sound old fashioned but I think many men find it off putting when women choose to dress like men most of the time. I’m not sure who wrote the phrase “Men’s love of women is directly in proportion to their degree of strangeness to us.” but it seems apt applied here.

  4. Mary F.

    Yes, that corset and the maid who came in to turn down the bedcovers and looked vaguely like Louisa. That nailed it for ME, he was outta there!

  5. Linda D.

    I agree with you Carol! The corset thing was HORRIBLE! What a Wingnut! She was lucky he didn’t run right then but then he had already had a look at her black negligee so it might not have surprised him as much as we think. Wasn’t he wimpy about all the simply blatant ways she hit on him? He got bamboozled so many times that I thought he had lost his mind!
    Now, the thing about the pretty set Louisa wore in his dream. I wonder if she had anything like that? All I ever saw her in were PJ’s and even Uggs! Not a turn on I expect but then he was wearing the old man PJ’s!

  6. Linda D.

    While watching that dinner scene, I realized I had vomit in my mouth! UGH! As for her “style”, we might have trouble finding a word to describe it. Louisa dresses feminine because she knows she looks good and she is still professional looking. Edith doesn’t look good in her outfits but she has no curves so it would be hard to look good in dresses or smart tops. She could wear a nice scarf and a nice jacket or sweater with her classic black pants. She has the money to buy the best, unlike Louisa. I loved the comparison about the ruffles! Yup! In the fashion department, Edith loses, hands down. Unbeknownst to her, she is a loser in love with Martin Ellingham too. Would it not have been funny if Louisa embellished the story of their love life as payback for the way Edith questioned her? Oh God, I’m laughing just thinking about it! Of course, dear Louisa can’t even say the word sex. My curiosity is rampant thinking about how it really was! Weren’t they engaged for at least 3 weeks? Surely, they did the deed more than twice? Any thoughts?

  7. Post author

    I had to look up that name. Then I read that he’s been accused of non-consensual rough sex and I got your reference. I also read that he’s been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. What a mess!

  8. Gabriele

    Very well done, your analysis, Karen, I enjoyed reading it!
    If we include the hair style into our comparison of clothing we can remark that Edith’s hair, which is forced into those unnatural hard spikes, reflects her calculating and manipulative behavior towards Martin. And the red color is the fishing rod or the bait in this regard. Happily, calculation and manipulation are beyond Martin’s character, and I guess Martin senses this deep gap, albeit he is not really concious of the extent of Edith’s manipulative striving.

    The expression “beyond Martin’s character” makes me think of another question that perhaps would be worth a thought: How comes, that it is Martin Clunes of all people, who is able to play so very convincingly the DM role? Martin Ellingham’s character is absolutely “beyond” Martin Clunes’ character, or in fact, it is the very opposite of the affable, natural, kind, people and animal loving Martin Clunes. I have thought a lot about this question. It is still the big enigma of this series for me, but I am slowly coming to some approach…

  9. Post author

    Nice to hear from you again Gabriele!

    I don’t think I would have any great insight into how difficult it is for Martin Clunes to play a character who is very different from his own personality. I think it mostly revolves around enjoying acting and particularly enjoying being a character who demands a totally new identity. Most actors tend to find something in their own backgrounds to help them with a role. I don’t know what that would be for MC, but he may have known someone with several of these traits or he may have looked up some information about people with social anxiety or any number of behaviors. Soon there will be a film released about Stephen Hawking and his wife. Eddie Redmayne, the actor playing Stephen Hawking, said that he watched footage of Stephen Hawking and sat in front of a mirror trying to make the same facial and body gestures. With a lot of work at times, and a good imagination that makes it possible for actors to adopt a different persona, good actors like that challenge. Once they have a sense of how they want to play the character, they can fall back into the behavior pattern fairly easily.

    I would also say that directors play a big role in helping actors determine how to handle a role. They probably try out various postures and gestures until everyone thinks the right combination has been found. I have heard of directors asking actors to try a variety of ways of saying a line and of using their bodies until they like what they see.

    I really don’t think we can discern what the process is by knowing something about the actor. And I remember seeing that Martin Clunes enjoys many of the scenes where he yells at people or kicks the dog. It must be fun to become another person for a little while. How much an actor can lose him-herself in a role is in direct proportion to how great their acting skills are. For example, Meryl Streep usually becomes the character she’s playing to such a degree that we forget it’s Meryl Streep. She’s been married to the same man for 36 years and has four grown children, but you don’t see that in her acting. She grew up in New Jersey yet can imitate many accents. She’s just talented and a hard worker.

  10. Gabriele

    Yes, of course, a very good actor can even play the telephone directory in a convincing way. And I love the films with Meryl Streep, because she is one of the world’s best actresses.
    And of course, MC has played a serial killer in “A Is for Acid” without being one himself.
    But as this blog shows, we all are in a special way fascinated by this ME character, and I was stunned when I discovered that one could hardly find an actor who is as diametrically opposed to this film character. So why MC? And why does just MC get this part so absolutely straight?
    My approach is the following: in their way of communication with people, ME and MC are complete opposites (that’s why MC enjoys so much playing the grumpy scenes!), but they have a fundamental trait in common: they both are not calculating when they communicate with other people, they are both in a sort of naïve way straightforward and natural, they don’t pretend. And maybe that’s the basis for MC to get this character that straight.

    Well, sorry, all this is way off topic, so forget it… anyway, I have problems to express my thoughts about this question in a foreign language…
    As this blog is such a treasure of DM related topics I’ll be happy to reread the thread “What is it about DM that is so appealing”, and I’m sure that I’ll find there a lot of interesting insights into the main features of the ME character.

    Now, back to Louisa vs. Edith… It’s interesting to read all your remarks about the sophisticated choice of costumes. I didn’t notice that in S4E7, Edith and Martin are nearly dressed identically, in a blue and white striped shirt. Great observation!

    At the moment, my husband and I are watching the series for the second time, I guess, there’ll be a third and fourth time and even then we won’t have noticed all the subtleties…

  11. Post author

    I suppose what you say about the similarities between MC and ME could be a factor, but I would still hesitate to make too much of a connection between the actor and the character.

    Believe me, I don’t notice all these details immediately. I pick up on some things only when I’m reviewing a scene for some other reason and become aware of a quality I had never paid attention to before. All of this minutiae does contribute to the overall caliber of the show though. Enjoy watching again. It’s nice that both you and your husband watch it together.

  12. Linda D.

    Sorry, I forgot he might not be well known outside Canada where he was the biggest star on the CBC for his show Q. We loved his show and him. I just hope he survives this mess, as well as his accusers too, of course. We are rooting for him but he seems to be in a lot of trouble so we also have to think of those he has hurt and hope for the best for them as well.

  13. Linda D.

    Great comments Gabriele! It could work into some kind of post. Martin Clunes is a very good actor and of course, their trade is being able to play a role convincingly. He does it very well.

  14. Santa Traugott

    This is my feelling, Gabriele — that play Doc Martin comes naturally to Martin Clunes because he just reaches for the exact opposite of what his own natural response would be — everything from posture, dress, haircut, romantic impulses, love of dogs, etc. etc.

    Getting far afield now, but I have always had a suspicion that there is a lot more to Martin Clunes than the “luvvie” we see being interviewed on various promotional appearances. I’m betting that he is an extremely smart man, with very high standards/expectations of himself and others, and possessed of a kind of restless energy. So in that way, not so different from Doc Martin! I’m fascinated by the way he never can seem to sit still on those “breakfast couches” on which he is so often interviewed.

  15. Maria

    Ich weiß genau, was Du meinst, Gabriele 🙂 [I know exactly what you mean]. I was amazed the first time I saw MC on a breakfast couch after seeing him only in DM. It was like two different people! He is very animated and engaged, has a quick sense of humor, and laughs easily. Since then, I’ve seen him in numerous other roles and although DM is still the most extreme in terms of character rigidity, it does seem more like a role in a series of roles to me now – in other words, acting (very good acting, to be sure).

    As far as MC’s own personality goes, I agree with Santa that there is clearly more to him than the public persona. I don’t think you can get to where he is by being just a “nice person”. Not that that is fake – I doubt that it would be possible to carry that off consistently – but there are indications enough that that’s not all there is. He’s been asked about his lack of similarity to DM, for instance, and has said, without going into detail, that he understands DM “and his anger”. Also, his own childhood has similarities with ME’s – he too was sent to boarding school and bullied. In MC’s case, he did see a therapist at the time and said it certainly helped, but he said in an interview “look at what I do now for a living – seek approval on a grand scale.” He wishes he could be more firm with people.

    And I have read that he does have a temper, which he readily admits to. A memoir by a British journalist named Lynn Barber just appeared, which consists of a series of celebrity interviews. She is seemingly known for looking for subjects’ weaknesses and then provoke them into displaying that weakness. Her interview with MC is apparently quite well known, as she was determined to find some “non luvvie” characteristic and did exactly that, goading him into a rant about journalists.

    I see one fundamental difference between MC and ME as being that MC has insight into his personality and motivations, which ME is struggling to develop.

  16. Diane

    I actually saw that ‘corset’ thingy in a Macy’s store here in the Mid-West a few years ago. It was by Wacoal, a medium priced bra manufacturer.

  17. Post author

    Thank you for making some good points and for writing a few words in German. Very nice.

    I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying I would really like to make yours the last comment on this subject because I see no need to belabor it. Martin Clunes grew up in a family with several actors, he chose to go to acting school and learn to act, like many actors he has few inhibitions and enjoys trying many roles. Many actors draw from personal experience amongst other things.

    I think this show has been his most successful venture for many reasons including its demands on him as an actor. We all seem to feel that his acting is quite skillful in this show and that’s good enough for me.

  18. Joan

    Martin Clunes said in an interview that he directs himself in Doc Martin which is why he can’t direct an episode unless Ellingham is in a coma (not in the episode).

  19. Post author

    I probably shouldn’t get into this, but I can’t help myself.

    I don’t know exactly what you’re saying by bringing up this comment, but it’s a very silly comment. There are numerous TV shows and films that have been directed by actors who act in them. None of them were comatose during the show and they were in the episode (or film) that they directed. MC has directed himself in “Staggered” without being comatose throughout. Here are a few comedy ones: “The Office” (Steve Carrell and others), “Scrubs” (Zach Braff), “Friends” (David Schwimmer), etc., etc. There are plenty of full-length feature films directed by actors in them too. It really happens quite often.

    If you mean by this that the directors of “Doc Martin” were not involved in developing the character of Martin Ellingham, I cannot really say for sure. I would doubt though that Martin Clunes and Philippa Braithwaite would hire directors and not take direction from them or allow them to suggest ideas. Ben Bolt, who directed many of the early episodes when the character of ME was developed, was deeply involved with the show and I would be very surprised if he didn’t contribute in some concrete way to the creation of the main character.

  20. Santa Traugott

    Let me say Amen to the role of the director. I started to get concerned about S6 when we learned that Ben Bolt was not going to direct any of the episodes. Taking your point that the creative effort is a collaborative one — which I think is absolutely right — I have to wonder how much of the darker road of S6 to lay at Nigel Cole’s door.

  21. Post author

    Point well taken. It’s probably likely that there’s no one person to place all the blame (or praise) on. They collaborated and agreed about where to go with the show as a group. Maybe they can get Ben Bolt to come back.

  22. Post author

    I know it was from him and it was very silly. Not everything he says is logical and this time it was nonsensical.

  23. anna

    There is an outtake clip somewhere (on youtube, natch) that includes a bit where Doc Martin is to be driving the car, one of the cast members says something to him, and MC drops right out of character and starts cracking up. He then composes himself for the next take, and says “I’m a doctor”, sort of waves his head around, and his face falls back from being Martin Clunes into being Martin Ellingham. I don’t know how enlightening that may be, but that line plus watching his face fall into place was amazing – one second I’m watching the actor laugh, and the next, “I’m a doctor” later, all I could see was Doc Martin. ah, here it is, right around 9:30 is the bit I reference : (this is in reply to Gabriele, November 9 , 2014, 12:43 PM)

  24. Santa

    It’s interesting how different the tone quality is on these out takes from the finished product.

  25. Post author

    It is my guess that the director tries the scene out several times before settling on which to select. We get two perspectives of the scene with Ross and his breasts in these outtakes, for example. It must have been hard for them to keep a straight face in that scene!

  26. Amy Cohen

    Reading this makes me wonder—why would Martin EVER have been attracted to Edith? I’d say that she chased him then and he just acquiesced, but then he wrote her poetry! He doesn’t do that for Louisa. Are we supposed to think he was a different man then? But for the poetry, I’d have thought she just chased him til he gave in and then she left, realizing he didn’t love her. But that sure isn’t what S4 leads us to believe in any way.

    Also, I did see similarities between Edith and Martin’s mother: cold, unemotional, brusque, rude women. Maybe Martin’s attraction was some way to replace the mother who never loved him? Maybe by the time he met Louisa, he knew that wasn’t healthy. I suppose we could say his first experience was so bad that he then knew he needed something very different.

    Of course, the writers don’t explain or need to justify these inconsistencies.

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