5 February 2007 | DAHLRUSSELL
Almost perfect ! Delightful.
This is brisk, fun production that doesn't take itself any more seriously than it should, and doesn't mind winking at us with a secret smile at the same time. The story of Becky Sharp, a girl who is never any better than she needs to be, and her friend Amelia who is much too good for her own good.
Natasha Little is simply perfect as Becky. Little is the kind of woman that women find hard to like: delicately beautiful, exceptionally talented making her perfect to play Becky. It is the subtle nuances in her moments that give her performance great depth and complexity needed for accessibility for a selfish character who is the smartest person in any room she is in. Becky is a woman who would agree with the quote of another brilliant beauty, Hedy Lamar: "Any woman can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." Little's Beky is not as likable or vulnerable as Reese Witherspoon who played Becky in a major motion picture film version made right around the same time but with a miniseries we have time to understand her more. Besides, not many actresses are as likable as Witherspoon.
As the story begins, this production does not look lavish, but the casting is so wonderful, the script so strong, the costumes simple but just right, that we are given the ability to focus on getting to know the people we will be following through 6 episodes.
It is this initial simplicity that is the brilliance of the production design by Malcolm Thornton. In the early stages, poverty is cramped and messy; work is dark, cluttered and rotting, and wealth is clean, and bright and airy
like freedom. As we progress through the story, wealth becomes more complex, overstuffed and overdecorated, echoing the complexity of the lives of Becky and Rawdon. Rawdon played by the handsome and overwhelmingly talented Nathaniel Parker (INSPECTOR LINLEY, BLEAK HOUSE).
Breathtaking Andrew Davies, possibly the most brilliant adapter of the classics of all time, gifts us with a screenplay of grace and subtlety, weaving the ease of modern speech perfectly into the period action in a way that feels classic, but is totally accessible.
It all bounces along to the ohm-pa-pa of a brass band. This band is one of the anachronistic touches of the production. While it passes as a military band, it also has a the raw, slightly under-rehearsed sound of a New Orleans jazz band, and sometimes a 1940s dance hall
meanwhile Becky's musical choices are straight from the pub
to the delight of the men around her. The band is really the only downfall of the production, in the moments of great serious importance, the band hits us over the head with a blaringly repetitive theme that gets very annoying after 6 episodes. It is the only "wrong note" in an otherwise witty and wise score. One of the nice subtle touches is that even Becky's singing, which at first seems flawless and delightful, begins to sound a bit flat in the episodes where we see dark results of her behavior on those around her.
The music for Amelia and William is completely different. Plaintive melodies played as quietly as loyalty and love that things only of the good of the beloved. Philip Glenister as William carries the heart of the piece with affecting restraint. Miriam Margoles does her best work EVER here, and Jeremy Swift as Jos is absolutely delightful in every moment he is on screen!
This entire miniseries is just marvelous, aspects of the production in tune with each other, in service to the whole piece. FANTASTIC.