Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Romola Garai, Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans, James Purefoy, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Matthew Faulk & Mark Skket and Julian Fellowes
Genre: Period Drama
Rated: M
Running Time: 140 Minutes

All's Fair In Love And War!

The daughter of a starving English artist and a French chorus girl, Rebecca (Becky) Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) is orphaned at a young age. Even as a child, she yearns for a more glamorous life than her birthright promises. As she leaves Miss Pinkerton's Academy at Chiswick, Becky resolves to conquer English society by any means possible. She deploys all of her wit, guile, and sexuality as she makes her way up into high society during the first quarter of the 19th century.

Becky's ascension to the heights of society commences when she gains employment as governess to the daughters of eccentric Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). Becky wins over the children, and the Crawley family's rich spinster aunt Matilda (Eileen Atkins) as well. The rural Hampshire household comes to find her indispensable, and Matilda comes to confide in the bright young woman. But Becky knows that she cannot be a true part of English society until she moves to the city. When Matilda invites her to come live in London, Becky eagerly accepts. There, Becky is reunited with her best friend Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai), who - having grown up comfortably - does not share Becky's more brazen ambitions. Hewing close to the family she already knows so well, Becky secretly marries dashing heir Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy) - but when Matilda discovers their union, she casts the newlyweds out. When Napoleon invades Europe, Rawdon bravely reports to the front lines. Pregnant Becky stands by distraught newlywed Amelia, whose own husband George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is also called to fight. When George does not survive the Battle of Waterloo, Becky's friendship with Amelia is strained beyond repair. Becky is reunited with Rawdon and gives birth to a boy, but, post-war, money and comforts are sparse for the trio. More intent than ever on gaining acceptance into London society and living well, Becky finds a patron in the powerful Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne). Steyne's whims enable Becky to realize her dreams, but the ultimate cost may be too high for her.

The new film version of the classic novel by William Makepeace Thackeray introduces a new audience to the beautiful, funny, passionate, and calculating Becky.

My Verdict:
'Vanity Fair' is a rag to riches back to rags and riches story about Becky Sharp played by a rather mischievous, playful Reese Witherspoon. The first display of Becky's roguishness is as a young girl when The Marquess of Steyne comes to her father's house to buy a painting. Becky is not content to have the painting leave without a higher price being paid and is quite happy to declare to The Marquess just that. He, obviously liking her impudence, agrees to the higher price. Little does Becky know that her future will depend on a higher price laid down by The Marquess, but in many, many years to come. Becky's life will indeed be inter-twined with many, some to her benefit, others to her detriment, some enjoying her audacity, others using it against her. Journeying with Becky is the main thrust of 'Vanity Fair'. The Director of 'Vanity Fair', Mira Nair, was born in India and her Indian heritage influence can be seen at times during the film, perhaps especially during a dance sequence in the latter stages of the film.

The story is a complex one and is the reason for the length. In the early stages of the movie it is a little bewildering and confusing as characters are established and just when you think you've slotted everyone together, more characters are introduced. The reason is often because Becky took every opportunity afforded to her, often without regard to the consequences. Her first real opportunity to step up is to settle in London with Matilda (see synopsis) - who has some of the films finest lines- as it is Becky's first chance of a better life, which she pursues in earnest, marrying Matilda's nephew and heir Rawdon. Not such a bad decision as she was madly in love with him, but it will be her downfall in years to come. Becky is a character with flaws, which sometimes make her unlikeable, but not enough to dismiss her, as she has energy that was perhaps ahead of her time - maybe a modern woman born in the wrong era.

The sets on 'Vanity Fair' are often sumptuous and some of the outdoor landscapes are purely enchanting. Filming was often in one-take shots, which enhances the authenticity of the era. Mention must also go to the fabulous costumes, whilst not ostentatious, very authentic and noteworthy. An early garden scene is purely divine and reeks of the aristocracy, think peacocks' slowly wandering around a serene water-lily pond, somewhere that Becky is unfamiliar but is more than prepared to adopt. This is the driving force behind 'Vanity Fair', to establish the level of complexity between the classes and to use Becky as its focus. Failure to age any of the characters lets the film down badly towards the latter stages, which was very unfortunate.

'Vanity Fair' is an ambitious effort that in the main reaches its goal.

Rating : B+

Christina Bruce