Vanity Fair

"OK"

Vanity Fair Review


Surprisingly, "Legally Blonde's" very modern Reese Witherspoon seems quite at home in the 19th Century world of London society as sprung from the pages of William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair." Unfortunately she fails to inspire much sympathy for the novel's cunning, charmingly conniving, social-climbing heroine.

An orphan raised at a snooty girl's school, where she was indentured as a maid to pay for her edification, upon graduation the brilliant Becky Sharp rises quickly from nanny for the children of an eccentric country nobleman (Bob Hoskins), to sharp-tongued companion for his gossipy, aged society dame sister (Eileen Atkins), to wife-by-elopement of the nobleman's nephew -- much to the shock and chagrin of her former employers.

On the arm of her dashing army officer husband (James Purefoy) -- who used to "break hearts for a hobby" before falling under her spell -- Becky elbows her way into the disapproving circles of the Georgian-era upper crust, her beauty and biting wit making her irresistible to pliant men and a formidable rival to condescending women.

But as the story progresses through her good and bad fortunes -- stemming from, among other things, the Napoleonic Wars and her hard-gambling husband's fluctuating finances -- there is no point at which Witherspoon arouses one's hope for Becky's future. It's refreshing to see a genuine anti-heroine emerge from this kind of epic chamber drama, but the actress lacks the charm and heart that let the audience revel in her backhanded success and pity her periodic misfortunes.

Infused with the spicy sensibilities of Indian director Mira Nair ("Mississippi Masala," "Monsoon Wedding," "Kama Sutra" and "Salaam Bombay!"), the gray formality of early-1800s England is sublimated in favor of a lush and devious, almost Bollywood sense of color and pizzazz that serves well this story of bold, unapologetic feminine wiles. The photography (by Declan Quinn) is gorgeous and the dialogue is crisp and wry, yet the manners and societal pecking orders are pointedly defined. So is a cavalcade of secondary characters played by the likes of Jim Broadbent and Gabriel Byrne, who has a pivotal role as an unscrupulously motivated benefactor who helps Becky through hard times, only to bring even worse upon her.

Screenwriters Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park"), Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet boil down the book's 900 pages without the film feeling entirely expurgated, although some subplots are overly simplistic and a few personalities get short shrift. Such is the case with Becky's dearest friend Amelia (Romola Garai), whose blind adoration of a vicious cad (JONATHAN RHYS-MEYERS) and complete romantic ignorance toward a perfectly nice admirer (Rhys Ifans channeling Alan Rickman from "Sense and Sensibility") make a watered-down cliché of a major character in the book.

Also lost in the translation is Becky's sense of family. Over the course of 30 years (in which no one seems to age except children) she has all of two or three brief scenes with her son, in which one gets the passing impression of complete disinterest. This particular shortcoming in character definition cannot be laid at Witherspoon's feet, but it certainly makes her even less appealing.

Yet through Witherspoon's understanding of Becky's self-serving psyche and catty charisma -- if not her humanity (something her unsympathetic characters in darker films like "Election" and "Freeway" always had) -- and through Nair's exquisite command of the picture's tenor and atmosphere, "Vanity Fair" retains much of its allure until the simplistic and unsatisfying finale, in which all tribulations are resolved all at once and in a matter of five very convenient minutes.

Intriguing as a movie that almost fulfills its promise but falls short in an elegant, highly crafted fashion, "Vanity Fair" may still be worth seeing for those drawn to costume drama. But more pleasure may come from the act of picking it apart afterward than from actually watching the film unfold.



Vanity Fair

Facts and Figures

Run time: 141 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 1st September 2004

Box Office USA: $16.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $16.1M

Budget: $23M

Distributed by: Focus Features

Production compaines: Alliance Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 81

IMDB: 6.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Becky Sharp, as Rawdon Crawley, as George Osborne, as Amelia Sedley, as The Marquess of Steyne, as William Dobbin, as Mr. Osborne, as Sir Pitt Crawley, as Miss Matilda Crawley, as Joseph Sedley, as Pitt Crawley, as Older Georgy Osborne

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

Advertisement
The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Subtitled Salazar's Revenge in the UK, this fifth film in the long-running series never quite...

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.