In this 1998 rendition of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, the audience is privileged to experience drama, beauty, and plenty of great acting. Adapted by Andrew Davies, who has done other costume dramas such as Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth), Dr. Zhivago (Keira Knightly, Sam Neill), and The Way We Live Now (David Suchet, Cillian Murphy), this rendition of Vanity Fair is dark, sexy, and wonderful.
Vanity Fair is a story of a young woman named Rebecca Sharp. Trying to improve her station in life. Born into poverty, she is determined to move up the social ladder by her own two hands. In the early 19th century this meant an advantageous marriage. Rebecca Sharp will use her wits and beauty to manipulate those around her in order to get what she wants; status. Ms. Sharp’s best friend is Amelia Sedley who has everything that Becky Sharp wants; money, status, and privilege. Ms. Sedley soon finds out how fickle those things can be. Vanity Fair follows the lives of these two girls as they grow into women, wives, and mothers.
The acting in Vanity Fair is just as beautiful as the cast. The entire cast is wonderful in their roles, but the two that stand out are Natasha Little and Phillip Glenister. Natasha Little as Becky Sharp is a wonder. Little’s Sharp starts out as a complex and intelligent girl who has high hopes for her life. Although she may act in ways that are not always on the straight and narrow, underneath you feel she is a good person. This feeling slowly disappears. As the series progresses Sharp becomes completely amoral, and even at times, destructive. You begin to wonder if she has any feelings for those around her or if everyone in her life is simply there to be manipulated. Little plays Sharp as an ever growing dark woman, who will stop at nothing to get what she feels she deserves. Even when she does show compassion, there is a tinge of manipulation involved. Her character is a great contrast to the other characters who are written as truly great people. One in particular is William Dobin, played by Phillip Glenister (Life on Mars). William Dobin quickly becomes one of the most wonderful characters in the series. He is strong, sensitive, loving, and quite beautiful. Glenister portrays this with the greatest of ease. There are certain expectations of Dobin’s character, and these actions and feelings are portrayed beautifully on Glenister’s face. At the same time, Glenister’s eyes will tell you how Dobin is really feeling. To see this contrast in one shot makes it so easy to fall in love with Dobin and Glenister’s acting.
Like many costume drama’s the BBC’s Vanity Fair is lavish and beautiful to watch. The costumes and sets are a draws in themselves. Castles, stately homes, India, and even royal settings bring the world of Vanity Fair to life. Along side the acting and adaptation, the sets will help to reveal much about the characters and the world in which they live.
Vanity Fair is six episodes on two discs spanning five hours, which is well worth the time.