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
"Vanity Fair" (2004) is an acceptable but abbreviated version of the classic Thackery Victorian period novel which tells of Becky Sharp (Witherspoon), who uses artifice and charm to climb from lowly governess to aristocrat, always able to find a suitable family of peerage or property to use as a rung in her ladder to the top in spite of the tribulations of the time. At just over two hours, this film cannot deal in depth with the many characters in the story and has to content itself with hitting the high points which make for a very condensed telling suited to those who only wish the flavor of the story. Those with a particular interest in Victorian pulp fiction or more expansive dramas should turn to the BBC's 1998 six hour miniseries which offers greater character depth, a presentation much more true to the period, and a very much better cast. (B-)
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