Projections - Movie Reviews

Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair
Starring Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy,Rhys Ifans,
Gabriel Byrne, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

Rated  PG-13 for some sensuality, nudity, and a violent image
Reviewed by: Jim
Release Date: September 1, 2004 Released by: Focus Features

William Makepeace Thackeray’s sizeable novel, Vanity Fair, is given a bit of a big-screen make over by India’s talented director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding).

A Heroine Will Rise” is clearly seen in the film’s ads and the period of the Napoleonic Wars has one of the earliest feminists in Becky Sharp, endowed with spunk and cleverness by Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon’s Becky comes to meet Amelia (Romola Garai) at a young ladies academy. Nair, from a screenplay by a trio of writers, including Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), tracks the ups and downs of these two different women, through the plucky Becky gets more attention and deservedly so.

The noticeable change from Thackeray is how the scheming social climber or “mountaineer” is so appealing to the viewer. In English society circa 1820 crossing class barriers was taboo, yet Becky lived to standards that didn’t sit well with those who looked down on her.

The storytelling has a chaotic feel to it though it retains more of a clarity than expected. Amelia, who becomes Becky’s closest friend, wants her to marry into her family. But Amelia’s arrogant fiancee, handsome army captain George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) dissuades Joseph (Tony Maudsley), Amelia’s rich, but dim brother from marrying the impoverished orphan.

Vanity Fair has the same episodic makeup as the book, originally a serial in a magazine, with Becky becoming a governess at the Crawley household and eventually marrying Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy). Rawdon is the second son of Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins) and can’t rid himself of constant gambling.

Nair traces the marriages of Amelia and Becky with each eventually bearing a child. The Battle of Waterloo will come into play and Becky will feel the sting of being Rawdon’s wife. The film’s best supporting characters are Sir Pitt’s spinster sister, once a champion of Becky, Matilde, played by Eileen Atkins, and Gabriel Byrne as the sympathetic but ruthless Lord Steyne. Becky doesn’t become his mistress in Nair’s version which has a nice Bollywood lavishness to it.

Rhys Ifans, (Danny Deckchair) shows a romantic side as the long-time suitor of Amelia, William Dobbin. Nair here doesn’t exert the emotional side as she did in Monsoon Wedding, but her reworking of Thackeray with Witherspoon fit for the part works with the lush lensing, costuming and designs.

Vanity Fair

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