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Vanity Fair (2004)

PG-13 | | Drama | 1 September 2004 (USA)
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Growing up poor in London, Becky Sharp defies her poverty-stricken background and ascends the social ladder alongside her best friend, Amelia.

Director:

Mira Nair

Writers:

Matthew Faulk (screenplay), Mark Skeet (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
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4,911 ( 889)
2 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Gabriel Byrne ... The Marquess of Steyne
Angelica Mandy Angelica Mandy ... Young Becky
Roger Lloyd Pack ... Francis Sharp
Ruth Sheen ... Miss Pinkerton
Kate Fleetwood ... Miss Pinkerton's Crone
Reese Witherspoon ... Becky Sharp
Lillete Dubey ... Ms. Green (as Lillette Dubey)
Romola Garai ... Amelia Sedley
Tony Maudsley ... Joseph Sedley
Deborah Findlay ... Mrs. Sedley
John Franklyn-Robbins ... Mr. Sedley
Paul Bazely ... Biju
Rhys Ifans ... William Dobbin
Jonathan Rhys Meyers ... George Osborne
Charlie Beall ... Gambler
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Storyline

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 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. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

In a time of social climbers, Becky Sharp is a mountaineer. See more »

Genres:

Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality/partial nudity and a brief violent image | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | UK | India

Language:

English | French | German

Release Date:

1 September 2004 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Vanidad See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$23,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,800,000, 5 September 2004

Gross USA:

$16,136,476

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$19,463,185
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

After asking Reese Witherspoon to get pregnant for the role (as a joke, because she thought Reese was too thin), Director Mira Nair was delighted when Witherspoon announced she was pregnant after all. See more »

Goofs

Becky sings "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal," a poem Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote in 1847 and appears in the Thackeray novel (1848) on which the film is based. Because the novel concludes over a decade later (we assume on or before the present day for the author), and young Georgie, born in 1815 or 1816, is still only an adolescent, she would have sung it no later than 1840, which is well before it was published. However, the anachronism is Thackeray's and not the film makers'. See more »

Quotes

Amelia Sedley: [the clock strikes midnight at the Waterloo ball] George, shouldn't we rest now? There may be a battle in the morning.
George Osborne: Go to bed if you're tired, my dear. Sweet dreams.
[Dances with Becky]
George Osborne: Are you tired, you wicked woman?
Becky Sharp: [laughing] I'm not a child, Captain Osborne. Not like your brainless little Amelia. Ambition doesn't tire. Evil never sleeps.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Before the credits start rolling the word "Alvida" (goodbye) appears in Urdu script. Beneath it is the following dedication: for our beloved Ammy Kulsum Alibhai 1927-2003 See more »

Connections

Version of Vanity Fair (1922) See more »

Soundtracks

El Salam
Music and Lyrics by Amal El Taer and Hassan Esh Esh
Performed by Hakim
Courtesy of Ark 21/Hakim
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A novel without a hero becomes a film without any bite
15 September 2004 | by anhedoniaSee all my reviews

If Becky Sharp, Georgian England's conniving, calculating social climber, had a contemporary equivalent, it surely would be Tracy Flick, the deliciously ambitious high school student played delightfully by Reese Witherspoon in the acerbic comedy, "Election" (1999).

Director Mira Nair has said what made Witherspoon the ideal Becky Sharp was the actress' "American energy and sassiness." Fair enough. But why did Nair then tame that energy and sass? We see none of it in Witherspoon's Becky. This isn't the feisty actress who proved she could play edgy and biting in "Election" and "Freeway" (1996). This is Elle Woods as Becky, thanks to Nair's misguided decision to turn Becky into an appealing feminist.

I'm not averse to directors stamping their distinct styles on literary works, mixing film styles or modernizing old works. But you don't change the work's crucial essence. You don't transform Goneril and Regan into caring daughters, for instance.

That's where Nair's take on William Makepeace Thackeray fails miserably.

She and Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes - the two other credited writers, Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet, reportedly disowned the film alleging the shooting script bore no resemblance to their work - have stripped Becky of all her viciousness and cunning. They've declawed her in a ridiculous attempt to make her likable.

In interviews, Nair and Witherspoon insist they didn't want to make a typical "bonnet" film. Fine. But you also shouldn't make a film that doesn't know what it wants to be and lacks emotional resonance. And that's what Nair's film is.

It sparkles for about a half-hour or so as we see a young Becky, played pluckily by Angelica Mandy; then, the older Becky (Witherspoon) leaving school with her friend, Amelia (Romola Garai), and meeting, among others, Dobbin (Rhys Ifans) and George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Later, Becky becomes Sir Pitt Crawley's (Bob Hoskins) governess and meets her future husband Rawdon (James Purefoy) and Matilda (Eileen Atkins).

But once Becky heads to London, the film screeches to a halt. With no one seemingly knowing what the emotional tone should be and the story's harshness and satiric edge excised, the film grinds at a snail's pace, the actors slowly sapping all the energy out of it. A scene between Becky and George at the piano should be tart, their words should sting. Instead, the two actors labor with the dialogue and make the moment as sharp as a dull razor.

Adapting Thackeray's massive novel into a feature film was never going to be easy. But Nair gets more wrong than right. With the exception of the children, none of the characters age. Gabriel Byrne looks the same at the end of the film as he did in the beginning, which takes place 40 years earlier. Witherspoon, Garai, Hoskins, Ifans, Purefoy and Rhys-Meyers also show no hint of aging. And in an attempt to condense the story, important characters - Amelia and Dobbin, for instance - disappear for long periods and show up solely to wrap up subplots.

The highlights are Declan Quinn's striking cinematography, performances by Hoskins and Atkins, the only two who seem to be having any fun, and a superbly restrained Ifans, playing convincingly against type.

Much has been made about the Indian influence in Nair's story. There's nothing wrong with them being in the film. Thackeray was born in Calcutta and the colony's impact was evinced in Georgian English society. Not only do Nair's Indian touches make the film seem more vibrant, but the peacocks, parrots and Indian musicians, costumes and servants also make provocative statements about the exploitation of India and how the British Empire amassed its wealth. However, no matter how exotic it seems, Becky's dance just doesn't work and seems like nothing more than an imprudent attempt to add a foreign film style into this period piece.

Witherspoon, whose English accent falters occasionally, works commendably, but ultimately remains unconvincing through no fault of her own, really. You don't take someone who quips, "Revenge may be wicked, but it's perfectly natural," and turn her into a sweet, amiable victim. Witherspoon isn't even remotely as devious as Nair would want us to believe.

It's unlikely another actress, say Kate Winslet or Kate Beckinsale, would have fared any better for she'd have worked with the same script and Nair's foolhardy direction, which includes inexplicably asking Geraldine McEwan to not so much speak her lines as to squeal them high-pitched, making the veteran actress' Lady Southdown needlessly irritating.

This film remains so emotionally lackadaisical that when Becky finally breaks down before Rawdon, it seems more like a "For Your Oscar-Consideration" moment for Witherspoon than anything else. By softening Becky, making her more alluring than calculating, Nair destroyed the story's spirit. She and Fellowes also tacked on a ludicrous ending.

As botched film adaptations of literary works go, "Vanity Fair" isn't nearly as execrable as Roland Joffé's "The Scarlet Letter" (1995). But I'm confounded as to how the skilled storyteller of "Salaam Bombay!" (1988) and "Monsoon Wedding" (2001) could have gone so horridly wrong.


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