Vanity Fair (1998)

Reviewer: Stephanie Vale

It begins on an innocuous afternoon at the Pinkerton school for young ladies, where Miss Becky Sharp (played by Natasha Little, whose father was a drunken drawing master) is finishing up her last day as French tutor to the girls.  She is going to stay with her friend, Amelia Sedley (a stock-brokers daughter, played by Frances Grey) for a short time, until she must leave to take up a post as a governess. 

Becky carelessly proclaims her goodbye to her students and waltzes out of the classroom, shortly to join Amelia in Miss Barbara Pinkertons office.  Miss Pinkerton reads aloud a glowing letter of praise about Amelia to her sister Jemima, just before they are joined by Amelia and Becky; she then presents my dear Amelia with Johnsons dictionary to remind her of her time there.  Miss Pinkerton (who has never liked Becky) then continues severely, Miss Sharp, I bid you good day.  I make no presentation; you've shown yourself incapable of gratitude, to which Becky replies tartly, I beg your pardon.  I taught a little French here and you paid me a pittance for it.  No occasion for gratitude on either side, I should say.  She flounces outside and into the waiting carriage, where she and Amelia journey to the Sedley home in London.

Amelia Sedley (Emmy to friends), a sweet and innocent young lady, trusts that her friend Becky is as honest and true as she herself is; but it is just not so.  Becky and Amelia arrive at the comfortable Sedley home later on that afternoon, where Amelia's stuttering brother Joseph Tiger Sedley (Joss, played by Jeremy Swift) is just returning from India.  After a very short time Becky appears to have Joss in her power and will be free from governessing forever (due to a forthcoming marriage proposal), when Amelia's long-time sweetheart, Captain George Osborne (Tom Ward) arrives to spoil Becky's schemes.  Accompanied by his friend, Captain William Dobbin, George Osborne (a vain young officer in the British army) shows great disdain for the lower-class Becky at every turn, causing her to view him with open hatred.  After a disastrous night at Vauxhall Gardens filled with the (mild) drunken escapades of one Joss Sedley, Becky's plans of getting him to propose before she must leave are spoiled forever, when George finds a way to separate them for good.  Becky leaves shortly thereafter (cursing George Osborne, Joss Sedley, and even her friend Amelia) to take up a governess position for two young children at Queens Crawley, where Sir Pitt Crawley (a cantankerous old country baronet and lawyer) immediately takes a shine to her.

Becky is envious of her friend Amelia's good fortune and privileges, and does everything she can to attain those things for herself.  She pursues love in the least likeliest places (going after men she could not possibly be interested in), hoping to eventually catapult herself into the upper crust of society; Becky manipulates man after man, using them for what they can give her, while Amelia Sedley, who is trusting and kind, sadly begins to experience misfortune at the hand of both fate and society. Her family's good name is ruined when her father loses all their money in speculation (with large debts left unpaid), and they become penniless. John Osborne, Georges father, has forbidden George to associate any further with Amelia Sedley, and to immediately break of his engagement with her: he wishes George to marry a Miss Swartz, of good family and with a large fortune of her own.  Amelia faithfully waits day after day, for George Osborne to come visit her, in the meanwhile she is comforted by the kind Captain Dobbin.

Sir Pitt Crawley eventually offers Becky his hand in marriage soon after his second wife's death (only a few days later), and she has a surprising answer for him, I am already married! The storyline that ensues is rife with satire, with the clever little Becky Sharp pursuing wealth and social position, regardless of who and what she hurts and destroys in the process.  She lets nothing stand in her way, going after anything and everything to her advantage; despite all this, Amelia's friendship for Becky remains true. There are quite a few things wrong with the content of Vanity Fair: The Lords name is used in vain quite a few times (about 7), there is one mention of the b-word, one use of a*s, and many uses of d*mn (too many to count approximately 15).  A woman steals jewelry and things from another woman, a woman lies and flirts to gain money and social position, one married man is tempted into adultery (but does not quite go through with it) while another married man kisses a married woman on a couch, a man is shown semi-naked in a shower, a drunken man creates a scene, gambling is shown a few times, a man goes to debtors prison for not paying his bills, there is some cleavage shown, a few scenes of war and violence (not much shown), a father-in-law kisses his daughter-in-law on the lips (no tongue, but sick nevertheless), and there are mentions of mistresses and a short scene in a brothel (suggestive only, nothing shown).

There are quite a few times that married couples are shown in the bedroom together, but mostly conversation about the day is all that goes on: there is one chaste kiss, later a few seconds of kissing, then a brief embrace (she is comforting him), and in one scene a character mentions being in bed all day, but she is in a shift and he's shirtless, and no embrace or anything is shown. All in all, this six-part mini-series from A&E was ok, if you can get past all the content and language.  Amelia is a great person, so true and honorable, as well as just and innocent, that you cant help but love her and be inspired by her strength of character.  She faces all situations with courage and determination, and while we love her and are inspired by her it is shown that she is not a perfect person either (as is true in real life).  We also learn a great moral lesson from Becky's lying and scheming, about the consequences and results of allowing sin a hold in one's life.

In the end, Becky is slightly redeemed by a good deed that she does for another person, and while this is admirable, she never apologizes or asks forgiveness for what she has done: throughout the movie she only denies everything and proclaims her innocence.  She would have been much better off if she had admitted her guilt and sorrow, which would have brought about better results for both herself and others. We see that all her scheming does indeed, catch up with her in the end.

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