The British Empire flowers; exotic India colors English imaginations. Becky Sharp, the orphaned daughter of a painter and a singer, leaves a home for girls to be a governess, armed with pluck, a keen wit, good looks, fluent French, and an eye for social advancement. Society tries its best to keep her from climbing. An episodic narrative follows her for 20 years, through marriage, Napoleonic wars, a child, loyalty to a school friend, the vicissitudes of the family whose daughters she instructed, and attention from a bored marquess who collected her father's paintings. Honesty tempers her schemes. No aristocrat she, nor bourgeois, just spirited, intelligent, and irrepressible. Written by
William Thackerey's "Vanity Fair" has been adapted for the screen and television in numerous occasions. It is almost an impossible task to get a coherent take on a narrative that spans a lot of years and in which a lot happens.
This adaptation of the book by Mira Nair with the adaptation by Julian Fellowes, is sumptuously photographed by Declan Quinn, who captures the Regency period in the England at the beginning of the XIX century. Ms. Nair's touch is evident in the way the costumes have an Indian flair as they were brilliantly executed by designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor. Maria Djurkovic's wonderful production design is also an asset.
If anything, this reincarnation of the Thackerey's novel is a joy for the eyes. The rich period in which the action takes place comes alive in the screen as a feast of colors, which in a way, compensate for the failings on the story and in the way Ms. Nair conceived the way she wanted to tell this tale about an ambitious young woman who is the epitome of social climbing. As a character puts in the film, Becky Sharp would be a perfect mountaineer.
Part of what is wrong with the film is Reese Witherspoon in the central role. Not that her interpretation is wrong, it's that she doesn't project the character of Becky Sharp with an intensity that another actress might have brought to the role. In part, this might not have been Ms. Witherspoon's fault, but the director's, in the way she guided the key performance.
The other failure of the film lies in the last scenes in which one finds Becky in Baden-Baden. Becky, Amelia, and Dobbins, haven't aged one iota. For the sake of realism, a bit of old age makeup should have been applied to these actors, or else, one might believe in the curative waters of that German spa. If it was true, we should be taking the next flight to Germany. After all, if that were the case, it would be the end of plastic surgery as we know it!
Some of the best actors of the English stage and screen are seen in various roles. Bob Hoskins, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Rhys Ifan, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, James Purefoy, just to name a few, do an excellent job in the portrayal of their characters.
This "Vanity Fair", although flawed, is not a total failure. Mira Nair shows an amazing talent for being in command of such a large project.
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