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:: Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair is a direct adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 900-page novel of the same name. Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) has been faithful to the story and has brought it to life with a warm and colourful production.

Reese Witherspoon plays Becky Sharp, who rises from her poverty-stricken childhood to mingle in the most exclusive circles of British society. The story follows her and her best friend, Amelia (Romola Garai), as they try to find their feet in the big city. Becky is clever and pretty with a flirtatious charm that wins over everyone she meets, while Amelia is sweet, reserved and devoted to her philandering fiance.

Only revealing flashes of spitefulness show Becky’s true nature. The extent of her kindness is only relative to the reward. A ruthless social climber, she does not sincerely value anyone above herself or her dream of social success. Becky exploits even her closest friends and family to her own advantage then discards them when they are no longer useful.

Though she is not altogether likeable, Becky is a fascinating character and strangely appealing at times. Witherspoon does a good job in capturing her ambitious and manipulative nature. For all her scheming though, Becky is battling against an unfair class system, long before it was acceptable to do so. Her strength and unquenchable sense of hope can only be admired but her vanity makes her both cruel and pitiable. Her many flaws create enough drama to keep this complicated story moving.

Reducing an epic drama spanning several decades to just over two hours is fraught with difficulty and Vanity Fair does suffer a little from the effort. A multitude of characters drift in and out of Vanity Fair too quickly to leave strong impressions and the frequent location changes are disorienting.

However, the foibles of all the characters are very recognisable and ring true despite having been written in the 19th century. Undercurrents of unrequited love, gambling problems and pride, make the story seem quite modern, despite the cultural differences of a hundred and fifty years ago.

The production values in this film are of a high standard and add a theatrical tone. The costumes exaggerate the styles and colours of the period to create the varying mood, and influences from India revel in the British colonialism of the day.

Vanity Fair will most appeal to those who have read the book or who have the patience for a long and winding tale. It is a faithful adaptation of a great novel but, by the nature of its origin, lacks the focussed plot we might expect of a film.