Vanity Fair (2004)  

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

When William Mackepeace  Thatchery wrote his novel about Becky Sharp so many years ago, he never imagined that a Hollywood starlet would play the role with such charm and devotion. Mia Noirs adaptation takes less than half the time of Masterpiece Theatres version, leaving out huge chunks of the novel and attempting to carry the period piece along on merit alone. It does a fairly good job of it, although as most critics have pointed out, there's a little something missing. Maybe its a bit more deviltry on Becky's part, for Reese's portrayal is empathetic where in the novel she was purely scheming.

 

Little Becky Sharp is a woman without title, status, or wealth. Raised as a servant in a boarding school after the death of her father, she has set her sights on society. The best means of achieving this is through marriage to a respectable man. Summering with her good friend Amelia (Romola Garai), Becky attempts to lure Amelia's brother into an understanding, but the relationship is diverted through the pious wrangling of Amelia's self-centered fiancé, George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Myers). Unwilling to share family ties with a half-French servant girl, he persuades Jos to abandon the cause.

 

Becky is therefore sent away as a governess and soon becomes a companion to a crotchety old woman with money to spare and relatives constantly scheming at how to get it. Here she is introduced to Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy), a wealthy playboy who soon wins her heart. When an unexpected proposal comes one morning, she's forced to reveal the truth: that she's married Rawdon. His aunt is horrified and flings them from the house, leaving both to poverty. They soon face the challenges of impoverished marriage while expecting their first child, and Becky must charm her way into the heart of society little realizing that this one flirtation may cost her everything.

 

My greatest complaint with Vanity Fair is its lack of explanations. One moment Becky is indifferent to Rawdon, the next she's telling his aunt that they've been married in secret. George burns  Amelia's letters to him in disgust before the eyes of an astonished friend, but refuses his fathers orders to marry well, instead choosing to keep his promise to Amelia. Why? Was it because of sheer rebellion toward his father, or was there a smidgeon of responsibility in his breast after all? Minor characters also drive us to distraction. I wanted to slap Amelia for being such a silly twit when it came to the man who truly loved her. Fortunately all of this is rectified in the end.

 

These flaws aside, the production is lavish and the acting exquisite. If you're a fan of these films in general, you'll enjoy the glimpse into the Napoleonic period and find Reese's performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. For the most part its decent. There are flirtations between married men and women other than their wives, and Becky is either completely oblivious to one older mans advances or foolishly entertaining them without intending to return his favors, but no adultery is ever carried out. Added for comic relief is one completely unfunny instance when an old woman climbs up out of the tub, revealing brief backside nudity. Becky and her husband kiss in bed, and various amounts of cleavage are present. Language is almost nonexistent and the acts of kindness throughout from some truly noble characters bring up good points for discussion. The ending, while ambiguous, gives audiences the chance for interpretation: is Becky just an adventurer, or are her ambitions higher after all? Altogether its slightly flawed in terms of writing, but beautiful nevertheless.


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