UNSATISFIED WITH HER LOWER-CLASS BIRTHRIGHT, BEAUTIFUL, CALCULATING BECKY SHARP IS RESOLVED TO CONQUER HIGH SOCIETY BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, EMPLOYING ALL OF HER WIT, GUILE, AND SEXUALITY TO MOVE HER WAY UP. ADAPTED FROM T... more »HE CLASSIC NOVEL.« less
Ellen M. (EllenMargaret) from SMACKOVER, AR Reviewed on 10/26/2011...
This movie seemed hard to relate to at first but as it went on I really enjoyed it. You have to really pay attention to the dialogue unlike a lot of modern stories. There is a lot going on and I actually watched about half of it and then stopped because my hubby wasn't too interested. A few evenings later, we started it over and the repetition of the first part helped us get into it better. Days later, I was still thinking about this story and I do recommend it. I plan to keep this movie for awhile and watch it again.
After I wrote this, I scrolled down to read the other reviews. While I appreciate the one comparing this film to the original novel, that review would spoil the movie for someone who hasn't watched it yet. Also, I felt the movie was a good "stand alone" story and I don't really care if it was originally some other story. Who the characters are in the movie are who they are in the movie, and the comparison to the people in the original novel just really doesn't matter to me, the average viewer. There are far too many movies out nowadays with mean horrible people. This was good entertainment and fairly wholesome, a peak into another time and place.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Susan C. (Crinigan) from BRANDON, FL Reviewed on 4/16/2008...
A wonderful tale among beautiful costumes and scenery.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
A lot of pretty pictures, but an insult to Thackeray
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 05/21/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"If you hadn't gathered it from the movie itself, the bonus documentaries on the DVD will make it clear that this edition of Vanity Fair has at its root a fatal flaw. It attempts to portray Becky Sharp as a sympathetic, even admirable person. A plucky, Madonna-style powergirl. As a result, this is an extremely watered-down version of what Thackeray actually wrote. There is nothing nice about his novel, which is tremendously compelling and hilariously funny, but also coldly cynical. Becky is a brutal predator, who doesn't care a hoot about her child or her husband, and goes about exploiting everyone around her with the greatest zeal.She's closer akin to Hannibal Lecter than to Scarlet O'Hara. Reese Witherspoone's portrayal of the non-heroine blunts all the edges, and leaves us with a fairly uninvolving character whose motivations are not always easy to grasp. Other characters are similarly polished up. George Osborne isn't nearly as callous in his behaviour to Amelia as he is in the novel. Dobbin is far too outspoken and powerful a figure whereas with Thackeray he is the prototype of an utter wet noodle. The absurdity and cowardice of Jos Sedley is smothered in layers of oriental mystique. The dazzling Indian finale, shamelessly over the top, that we get by way of obligatory happy ending, would have us believe that Becky has gone off with him on a life of happy traveling, casting infatuated glances in his direction. In the book however, she simply leeches on him, and Jos besieges his acquaintances to protect him from her! "You don't know what a terrible woman she is". That woman is not in this movie. In this way, the film completely misses out on the essence of the story. It basically becomes a vehicle for a string of sumptuously executed pretty pictures. In the explicit attempt, voiced by Mira Nair herself, to bring the story to the screen as one relevant to modern audiences, rather than being just the next period piece, the exact opposite is achieved. This is beautifully executed but very tame and oldfashioned costume drama. Not even the ridiculous oriental dance scene starring Becky, which shows a complete lack of understanding of early 19th century mores, can change that. Of course, Thackeray's story needs no modernization at all - it is as recognizable today as it was 200 years ago. 130 minutes are not enough to do justice to the book either. All plotlines are reduced to their bare essentials; the psychology driving them is completely lost. One moment George Osborne is shunning Amelia, the next he marries her; one moment he is insulting Becky Sharp, the next he's inviting her to elope with him. At times it is almost as if you can hear the actors gasping for breath while hurrying along to get everything crammed in in the alotted time (two hours is already longer than most movie audiences can stand nowadays if the film isn't peppered with a proper barrage of CG special effects). That none of the acting stands out as particularly distinguished, with the exception of Eileen Atkins's portrayal of aunt Mathilda Crawley, is hardly surprising under these circumstances. Another thing that doesn't help believability is the fact that characters appear to have eternal youth. While we see toddlers growing up into adults, Becky, Amelia and others look exactly the same at the end of the movie as they did at the beginning. The one thing that may make this movie worthwhile to watch nonetheless, for some, is simply the visual beauty of it. Costumes, locations and sets are generally stunning, and the streets of London are teeming with people, animals and coaches. Given that the whole crew was even dragged to Jodhpur, India, to shoot a few minutes worth of footage, it is however hard to understand why the Brussels episode was shot in the courtyards of Hampton Court Palace, which constitute an unconvincing decor to anyone who knows what Belgian cities look like. What a strange experience it must have been for Natasha Little to play Jane Sheepshanks, the moost goodly character in the story, and witness the insipid Becky of Reese Witherspoon, after having herself starred as the perfect embodiment of Miss Sharp in the BBC dramatization of the novel. That version is superior to this one on every count: it looks far more realistic, gives us the fleshed out characters in all their nastiness, stays close to Thackeray's sarcastic tone, and is in its own way just as beautifully visualized as this multimillion dollar project. If you want the next best thing to reading the book, the extra cost of that DVD is more than worth it."
Reese Witherspoon is more Becky Mild than Becky Sharp
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/02/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?"
William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair," first published serially in 1847-48, tells the story of the fortunes of two women, the ambitious and amoral Becky Sharp, the orphaned daughter of a struggling painter and a French opera singer, and the passive Amelia Sedley, the wellborn but sheltered daughter of rich merchant. The two young women meet at Miss Pinkerton's Academy for young ladies, where Becky is a tutor of French and Amelia a student, and become friends. We then follow their intertwined lives as Jane tries to climb the social ladder and Amelia follows the dictates of her heart. "Vanity Fair" is celebrated for Thackeray's disparaging and negative portrait of the upper classes of early 19th-century England. The characters are rather vile, the relationships are hopelessly doomed, and readers who were not the targets of Thackeray's pen have enjoyed it ever since.
The BBC did its most reason mini-series version of "Vanity Fair" in 1998 with Natasha Little as Becky Sharp (Little plays Lady Jane Sheepshanks in this version), having done in 1987 with Eve Matheson and in 1967 with Susan Hampshire. This version has Reese Witherspoon playing Becky Sharp, and while having an American actress play the young woman trying to get into English society does translate into a sense that she is clearly on the outside, she does not really convey the amorality of the character. In this version of "Vanity Fair" Becky comes across as mild rather than sharp. This is not because such a characterization is an inevitable result when a story that is perfectly suited to the length of a mini-series is cut down to a 2 hour and 20 minute movie, but rather because director Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding") and Witherspoon want Becky to be more likeable. However, given that this results in Becky losing her edge, I think it ends up being the film's flaw.
Becky first sets her sight on Joseph Sedley (Tony Maudsley), Amelia's rather simple brother, but discovers that marrying up into a family that is trying to do the same thing is impossible. So she moves on to be the governess in the house of Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins), where she finds someone who appreciates her in Miss Matilda Crawley (Eileen Atkins). Feeling secure enough to make her move, she focuses her attention on Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy), Sir Pitt's second son. When Becky tells Rawdon that the only two men who will enter her bedroom are her husband and the doctor he quickly calculates the time involved, takes stock of his own meager abilities, and decides to sneak off and find a minister rather than go to medical school. Unfortunately, the family does not greet the marriage with any joy and Rawdon, who is a compulsive gambler, becomes the quicksand upon which Becky builds her ascent into English society.
Becky Sharp has long been considered the prototype for Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara, but Thackeray's heroine is at a disadvantage in that the closest thing she has to a Rhett Butler is the creepy Marquis of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne). But then the subtitle for the novel was "A Novel Without a Hero." This is not to say that there are not decent blokes running around, but the best of the bunch, William Dobbin (Rhys Ifans), ends up suffering the most. He is in love with Amelia and she takes no more note of his earnest affection and honorable attention than she does the considerable shortcomings of her beloved George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who is arrogantly self-absorbed.
Amelia is Becky's counterpart in the narrative, but she is reduced to a supporting role simply because for most of the story she is an impoverished widow. While Becky makes her tentative advances into society, Amelia's life becomes depressingly stagnant. It is only in the fate of their sons that the parallel between the two really continues, until the film's climax where their last interaction has a profound affect on the final fate of each character. Nair provides a deus ex machina to add a bit more of a happy ending to Thackeray's novel, but that makes sense given the way Becky Sharp is written and performed in this film.
This version of "Vanity Fair" is a beautiful film, as English costume dramas tend to be. Because she was born in India, just as Thackeray was, Nair introduces visual elements of that culture into the film to make it a bit different from what we have seen before. Yet it is the subdued version of Becky Sharp that ultimately defines the film. When you find yourself wondering if Becky has really become Steyne's mistress or not, you know that this movie is cleaning up her image a bit too much. There is agreement that Reese Witherspoon is a nice person but she lets too much of that inherent niceness color Becky Sharp and the idea that Scarlett O'Hara is a literary descendant is lost."
Not really Vanity Fair
LK | 09/07/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This would have been a fun movie to watch if it weren't for the fact that I was expecting Vanity Fair, by William Thackery.
I disagree that it was a fast-forwarding through the book. It was a gross misinterpretation of the book, of Becky, most specifically.
We are urged into feeling deep sympathy for poor Becky by seeing little girl Becky in all her unloved half-orphan (and then very soon, full-orphaned) state. And as a mother to two daughters, that tugged on my heartstrings.
However - this is not the Becky Sharp that Thackery wrote about.
Becky Sharp went for the soft underbelly.
She loathed Amelia Sedley - perhaps because Amelia was so kind to her. Broken early on, Becky could not accept that kindness without resentment and rage. Amelia's charity (which isn't seen in the movie) served to fuel Becky's contempt and hatred. Becky's avid (and successful) attempts at making George Osborne fall for her was spurred on not only by George's initial insolence and destruction of her marital plans with Jos, but also by her anger and resentment towards Amelia.
Thackery's Becky is not a caricature - she has real depth, and although she mostly enjoys twisting the screws into Amelia's thumbs, she also can't help but pity her, and when it finally comes down to it, loses patience and pushes her towards Dobbin by revealing George's indiscretion. It is one of her few acts of selfless kindness. It seems at this point, she is weary of the whole game. But then again, she is much older and a bit wiser.
In addition to hurting Amelia, Becky deliberately sets out to hurt many others - anyone who has slighted Becky is in danger. She mocks, mimics, and often goes for the figurative throat in an attempt to ruffle her injured feathers.
Much of her anger and feelings make sense in the context of her life, and I can almost forgive her that. It is her treatment of her son that paints her in a more horrifying light.
In the book her utter negligence and contemptuous attitude towards her son are held up in stark counterpoint to her loving behavior towards Rawdon, Senior. In the movie, she actuall seems mildly upset that Lord Steyne has bullied her into sending Rawdie away - placing her hand against the window, giving the boy the sweet smile. Not so in the book.. She is relieved to be rid of him, he is a burden on her.
There's a scene where little Rawdy, drawn by the angelic sounds of his mother singing, crashes the party only to be stifled by Lord Steyne. This scene is grossly underplayaed. In the book, the scene is much more poignant - the boy yearns for his angelic mother to sing to him, but to him, she is never really there - she is harsh words or utter neglect. Steynes actions in dismissing him from her presence come across as much harsher and strident against the child's innocent lack of understanding that no matter what he does, she will never love him.
In the end, the boy gets love only from his devoted dad, and his loving aunt (and presumably uncle and cousins) who takes him in.
In the movie, Becky is played up as a spunky victim - a woman who behaves somewhat deplorably, but ever so understandingly, and that is not the woman Thackery wrote about.
I *do* have sympathy for Becky, even in the book - her life is a series of unpleasant moments, and one can understand why she treats others as she does - including her innocent child... but I don't really *like her*. The movie's Becky, by contrast, was almost likeable. We see her as misguided, but in the end, Innocent... she has foolishly played with Lord Steyne, but never actually *wanted* the indiscretion that must accompany her debts to him. He comes across the monster, and when Becky (in the movie) utters her innocence, we almost believe her.
What a disappointment
Heather A. Wilson | Bothell, WA | 09/20/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I am a Reese Witherspoon fan. I enjoy her work and many of the other cast members in this fiasco. It was fun to see Natasha Little in this version after doing such a wonderful job as Beckie in the BBC production. I read a review of the new movie a week ago, and thought I would go with an open mind. IT CAN'T POSSBILY BE THAT BAD!
For those of you who have read William Makepeace Thackeray's masterpiece of human nature, deceptions, schemes, and manipulation be prepared for disapointment. Beckie is generally kind and creates a minimal amount of mischief. The movie didn't project much of her cold calculation and planning. It was almost as if Beckie's character was a do-gooder or a happen-chance stair climber. The couple of things carried out well were Beckie showing her "plucky" nature and George Osborne playing a snobby jerk (in fact, I was eager for his demise!). But the entire relationship between Amelia and Dobbins is almost an after thought. You can almost see the writer saying "Oh right, they get together in the end - how am I going to squeeze that in! Let's do that here."
I am sure most of this sad representation is because directors have to limit a movie to less than 3 hours. So in turn, the all of the emotions you should feel - the ones where you are rooting for Dobbins, or want to kick Beckie, Rawdon, Pitt, or think, eesh, Ameila get a clue - throughout the movie are lost in this version of this classic. Go buy the BBC version (available on Amazon and A&E) and have a better evening at home."
Reine des Coeurs | New York, NY USA | 06/09/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"As a stand-alone film, Mira Nair's "Vanity Fair" might be an enjoyable romp, but as an adaptation of one of the greatest works of literature, it fails miserably. A look at the extended title of the book brings to light one of the more visible failings. Thakeray intended for this to be "A Novel Without a Hero".
Nair and Witherspoon (notorious for her insistence on having her interpretation of character motivation supercede the written script) fail to realize that Becky Sharp need not be a likeable character to be an interesting character. Had they explored more of what the book illustrated - her persisent selfishness and tunnel-visioned ambition - there would have been no need for the out-of-character acts of continual selflessness and condescension which made the viewer dislike Becky for her rather schizophrenic behavior. I found the character's mixed ambition and distorted logic distracting and disappointing.
The anachronistic song and dance scene tacked on near the end of the film was visually beautiful, but both inappropriate and out of character for the personalities taking place. No genteel woman would have appeared scantily dressed in a public theatrical forum. No ambitious social climber would have risked the reputation so painstakingly built up to incur the wrath that would surely be the reaction of the audience in watching her perform theatrics. It just cemented how badly the book was interpreted by screenwriters, director and lead actress.
A story based upon Becky Sharp, but not "Vanity Fair" itself would have proven a better film had Nair chosen to honor the 'spirit' she found in the written novel. This film, as an adaptation, does more to dishonor the spirit of the work that in the featurette she claims to have loved for so many years."