Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy, Gabriel Byrne, Bob
The classic William Makepeace Thackeray story, Vanity
Fair, stars Reese Witherspoon as Rebecca (Becky) Sharp,
an orphan who works her way up the social ladder, often at
the expense of her friend Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai) and
eventually her husband, Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy). As
the daughter of a starving artist and French chorus girl,
she dreams of gaining a higher stake in the 19th Century social
world. To this end, she befriends those of higher stature
and eventually becomes governess for the elderly and quite
odd Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins).
When Becky wins over the Crawley family's rich aunt Matilda
(Eileen Atkins), she finds herself drawn into the world that
she desires. But, once it's revealed that she has secretly
married Rawdon Crawley, she falls out of favor and must find
her "social fix" elsewhere. Her debts and her husband's lack
of stable income finally catches up with her, but this ends
up leading to an association with the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel
Byrne), who ends up giving her the fame and social stature
that she wants, but at a heavy cost.
While the original story was more of a satire of society
at the time, the lightweight and almost wispy treatment that
the film gives takes the satire aspect and dilutes it almost
to ill effect. Because of this most characters are barely
one dimensional and there is a rare few who actually make
the viewer care for what happens to them. With everything
that happens, one can't feel much for Becky or anyone she
associates with as it always seems that she lands on her feet,
no matter what collateral damage she causes. With that said,
there are a few characters that I enjoyed watching, including
Hoskins and Atkins, even though they were both overdone caricatures.
When it comes to sets, costumes and all around production
work, the movie works excellently as all timepieces should.
With the strong presence of a middle-eastern flair, the costuming
and set work has more than enough variety to keep even the
stodgiest of British attire from making the film feel to rigid.
As with most time pieces, the authenticity of the sets and
clothing really sells the story. Musically, the soundtrack
works well in keeping the tone of the film in line.
If you enjoy time pieces or films based on classic literature,
I'm sure you'll want to catch Vanity Fair. Those with
less patience will want to skip it as the characters feel
pretty shallow, even in the face of their events. With the
likes of Pride and Prejudice creating memorable people you
can't help but care for, Vanity Fair proves to be a
casual romp for few who just enjoy the genre.