TV Times

Life of the ‘Poor little rich girl’
By Harinda Vidanage
Mira Nair returns to silver screen with a creation that matches her artistic capacities of film making bringing into life one of the greatest classics of all times Vanity Fair.

“Vanity Fair” captures the life of Rebecca “Becky” Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman who sets her every ambition on climbing the social ladder of London society circa 1820. No penny to her name and merely the title of governess, she relies on her sexual allure, guile and quick wit.

In this glamorous cinematic experience, one of America’s most popular stars, Reese Witherspoon, unites with one of the world’s most acclaimed directors, Mira Nair, to bring to the screen one of the greatest female characters ever created, Rebecca (Becky) Sharp. The new film version of the classic novel by William Makepeace Thackeray introduces a new audience to the beautiful, funny, passionate, and calculating Becky.

The daughter of a starving English artist and a French chorus girl, Becky is orphaned at a young age. Even as a child, she yearns for a more glamorous life than her birthright promises. As she leaves Miss Pinkerton’s Academy at Chiswick, Becky resolves to conquer English society by any means possible. She deploys all of her wit, guile, and sexuality as she makes her way up into high society during the first quarter of the 19th century.

Becky’s ascension to the heights of society commences when she gains employment as governess to the daughters of eccentric Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). Becky wins over the children, and the Crawley family’s rich spinster aunt Matilda (Eileen Atkins) as well.

Mira Nair. She states, “The reasons I wanted to make Vanity Fair are Thackeray’s essential, and in my view spiritual, questions – which of us has dreams, and when we achieve them, are happy? What is contentment? What is aspiration? What is the vanity of life? In his novel, Thackeray created a cinema verité of its day. It was completely accurate concerning what was happening and had happened in England, yet the questions are timeless. The extraordinarily rich characters have resonance for all of us today, and I think Becky is literature’s greatest female character.”

Her Indian childhood complements Thackeray’s own (as the Englishman had spent his early childhood in Calcutta). This fortuitous connection is at once creative and highly personal, and the new film version meditates on how much of domestic imperial England was informed by the cultures across the sea. Vanity Fair is the first major adaptation of the author’s work since Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 feature Barry Lyndon. The two BBC TV serials, especially the 1998 version starring Natasha Little (this film’s Lady Jane Sheepshanks), might be more faithful, but they’re not as visually rich.

Production designer Maria Djurkovic adds that Nair’s influence certainly informed the design of the film: “There’s a particular sort of energy that comes with Mira’s approach which I think we all successfully tapped into – doing something that’s not at all like a traditional period movie in terms of the look or the feel.” Djurkovic, also inspired by the colonial influence of the era, notes that “the film spans the first quarter of the 19th century, a time when Britain had colonies all over the world. Influences and references that existed in Regency England often came from the colonies – Indian, North African, Chinese. Brighton Pavilion was built then.

Apart from a brief location shoot in India, Vanity Fair was filmed in the U.K. for eleven weeks in the spring and summer of 2003, all around Southern England and briefly at Elstree Studios. Thus this is a movie experience not to be missed for lovers of rich textured glamorously knitted movies.


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