Vanity Fair


Directed by: Mira Nair
Written by:Julian Fellowes, Matthew Faulk, Mark Skeet
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, James Purfoy, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Romola Garai, Rhys Ifans, Bob Hoskins, Gabriel Byrne, Jim Broadbent
Released: September 30, 2004
Grade: B+

Vanity Fair is the tale of an innocent girl who is chewed up and spat out by a society in which wealth and power are the measure of success.  Well, she’s not completely innocent (depending on your interpretation).

Set around the turn of the 17th Century, Reese Witherspoon plays the title role of Becky Sharp.  Having spent her teenage years studying in an orphanage, Becky has finally graduated and found employment as a housemaid for Sir Pitt Crawley (Hoskins).  She’s a breath of fresh air in the household as Pitt struggles to maintain his finances whilst waiting for his wealthy sister to pass on and leave a large inheritance.

Becky is in search of love and finds it in one of Pitt’s sons, Rawdon (Purefoy).  Their marriage coincides with that of Becky’s best friend, Amelia (Garai) who herself has also joined a well-to-do family by marrying George Osborne (Rhys Meyers), the son of high profile businessman (Broadbent).  Their dreams of a privileged life have come to fruition but they will both soon learn of the problems that come with it.  They find heir husbands anything but perfect and their fast rise up the social ladder has spawned a wave of jealousy from other prominent females looking to make a mark.

I have not read the novel from author William Makepeace Thackeray but it must be fairly substantial judging from the detail and the number of storylines packed into the film’s 137 minutes.  A serious criticism I have is that Vanity Fair never gets into a steady rhythm.  We are continually switching between stories and some scenes appear rushed in an attempt to squeeze as much detail in as possible.  Why didn’t we see Becky’s marriage?  Why didn’t we see more of Rawdon’s gambling addiction?  What happened in that 12-year gap at the end of the film and why did all the characters still look the same?

No performer stands out but it’s nice to see Reese Witherspoon in a role more suited to her talent (as opposed to Legally Blonde 2).  It’s a strong performance without being spectacular.  The director of the flick is Indian-born Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) which might explain why a few scenes (adding no value whatsoever) were shot in India.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do enjoy period pieces and the eloquent dialogue and elaborate storyline has been well crafted.  Still, I expected more and it would appear Vanity Fair has fallen victim to the difficulty of condensing a massive novel into an endurable film.