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Film Review: Vanity Fair

Film Review: Vanity Fair

We recently had a look at the book Vanity Fair, which is by William Makepeace Thackeray. What a name, right? You might have heard the book title before, as it’s now the name of a glossy fashion magazine. Before I read the book, I’d seen the film, so I imagined Becky Sharp almost exactly as she was on the TV. It’s probably the same as Harry Potter, as the actors in that are what most of us imagine to be the book characters.


So, as in the book, we start off with Becky and Amelia at school. The two girls come from very different backgrounds – one is rich, one is poor, and one is kind, one is cunning. It’s very easy to see which one is which. From their childhood, we learn how each lady is viewed by the people that surround her, and how they respond to it. Amelia is easily hurt, but Becky is (like her name) sharp and sarcastic.


In the old days, the only way for a woman to better her position in the world was to marry someone with both wealth and status, someone who has a lot of respect. After school, Becky and Amelia go on separate quests to find a husband, but it never quite works out how they want. Becky ends up in a place she doesn’t want to be, but using her resourcefulness and cunning, she gets into an even better position than Amelia. But this is short lived, and the story doesn’t end well for everybody. That’s why Vanity Fair is often called the “story without a hero”, because all of the characters have major flaws in their personality, even if they are trying to do the right thing.


With such incredible source material, how could the film makers possibly live up to such high standards? Well, firstly, they had to choose good actors. To play the lead role of Becky Sharp, they chose Reese Witherspoon, who was really good. Considering she’s usually in rom-coms and dramas, she was impressive in her role as a 19th century English society-climber. Equally good (although not given a proper opportunity to prove it) was Romola Garai in the role of Amelia Sedley. The male characters were also well played – Amelia’s questionable husband was played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and he captured George’s slippery personality very well.


One of the most surprising parts was William Dobbin, George’s best friend (despite the fact he is the most honourable character in the book). This fantastic role was given to Rhys Ifans, and although I was unsure – mainly because I’ve only ever seen him in unflattering roles – he was pretty good. That said, Dobbin is a bit of a laughing stock in the book, even though he is as good as gold. Unfortunately, this didn’t really come across, and Ifans’ Dobbin was a more typical romantic hero.


Not everybody liked the film, however. In fact, according to some reviews, only 50% of critics enjoyed it. Some say it doesn’t really capture Becky Sharp’s true nature, and they might be right – she’s designed to be someone the reader dislikes, as they can see all of her schemes and tricks. Still, it’s worth watching, especially if you’ve read the book. Even if it is only to see Luna Lovegood’s father play a bumbling, loveable character.


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