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  • This is an entertaining movie that goes over two hours, but I really don't understand why it was made. Sprawling stories spanning several decades with several subplots involving dozens of characters are totally defensible on the printed page, where we can always go back and remind ourselves which character is which and how this character is related to that one. But this type of thing makes no sense whatsoever in a film. Unless a viewer has a phenomenal memory, such a story on film invariably leads to confusion and to my asking myself, "now wait a minute, whose brother is this, and whose son?"

    So that is one of the principal problems with this film.

    There are several other problems as well. Reese Witherspoon is badly miscast. She simply lacks Becky Sharp's bite. In fact, the whole film lacks Thackeray's bite. Reese does a good job with the British accent, but it just doesn't work. She is just too American for the role. Weren't there any British actresses available, or were the producers just relying on Reese's star power? Reese is just too nice to play Becky.

    It has often been said that Becky Sharp was the model for Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind," although Margaret Mitchell denied this. Even so, I kept visualizing Vivien Leigh in this role and imagining how perfect she would have been. I think Mira Nair was thinking of GWTW as well, because there are several scenes in the film that are obvious homages to it. First there are the battle scenes during the Battle of Waterloo, followed by a panoramic view of the carnage following the battle, complete with corpses strewn all over the battlefield. This was an obvious homage to the crane shot over Atlanta in GWTW. The final fight between Becky and her husband reminded me of the final fight between Scarlett and Rhett in GWTW. I half expected the husband to say "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

    Another flaw involves the Indian director Nair's inability to resist bringing in some Bollywood type scenes, particularly one involving Becky leading an Indian type dance, with Indian music, before the king, no less, and to thunderous applause.

    And yet another thing: this film spans at least twenty, maybe twenty-five or thirty, years in Becky's life after she graduates from finishing school--I am not counting the one scene of her as a child--yet the character never ages. Neither do any of the other characters. Maybe the makeup staff went on strike?

    But most of these problems won't even be noted by someone who hasn't read the book, so if you haven't, go ahead and see it; you'll probably be entertained. And if you are someone like me who loves the book, you may not be able to resist seeing it anyway. But Thackeray was never so soft.
  • =G=2 February 2005
    "Vanity Fair" (2004) is an acceptable but abbreviated version of the classic Thackery Victorian period novel which tells of Becky Sharp (Witherspoon), who uses artifice and charm to climb from lowly governess to aristocrat, always able to find a suitable family of peerage or property to use as a rung in her ladder to the top in spite of the tribulations of the time. At just over two hours, this film cannot deal in depth with the many characters in the story and has to content itself with hitting the high points which make for a very condensed telling suited to those who only wish the flavor of the story. Those with a particular interest in Victorian pulp fiction or more expansive dramas should turn to the BBC's 1998 six hour miniseries which offers greater character depth, a presentation much more true to the period, and a very much better cast. (B-)
  • 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.
  • jotix10012 January 2006
    William Thackerey's "Vanity Fair" has been adapted for the screen and television in numerous occasions. It is almost an impossible task to get a coherent take on a narrative that spans a lot of years and in which a lot happens.

    This adaptation of the book by Mira Nair with the adaptation by Julian Fellowes, is sumptuously photographed by Declan Quinn, who captures the Regency period in the England at the beginning of the XIX century. Ms. Nair's touch is evident in the way the costumes have an Indian flair as they were brilliantly executed by designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor. Maria Djurkovic's wonderful production design is also an asset.

    If anything, this reincarnation of the Thackerey's novel is a joy for the eyes. The rich period in which the action takes place comes alive in the screen as a feast of colors, which in a way, compensate for the failings on the story and in the way Ms. Nair conceived the way she wanted to tell this tale about an ambitious young woman who is the epitome of social climbing. As a character puts in the film, Becky Sharp would be a perfect mountaineer.

    Part of what is wrong with the film is Reese Witherspoon in the central role. Not that her interpretation is wrong, it's that she doesn't project the character of Becky Sharp with an intensity that another actress might have brought to the role. In part, this might not have been Ms. Witherspoon's fault, but the director's, in the way she guided the key performance.

    The other failure of the film lies in the last scenes in which one finds Becky in Baden-Baden. Becky, Amelia, and Dobbins, haven't aged one iota. For the sake of realism, a bit of old age makeup should have been applied to these actors, or else, one might believe in the curative waters of that German spa. If it was true, we should be taking the next flight to Germany. After all, if that were the case, it would be the end of plastic surgery as we know it!

    Some of the best actors of the English stage and screen are seen in various roles. Bob Hoskins, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Rhys Ifan, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, James Purefoy, just to name a few, do an excellent job in the portrayal of their characters.

    This "Vanity Fair", although flawed, is not a total failure. Mira Nair shows an amazing talent for being in command of such a large project.
  • Believe it or not, I am under the age of 20 and have read this novel purely out of interest and found it to be an amazing piece of work. Thackeray's unique writing style in "Vanity Fair" is captivating. I saw the movie only a week after finishing the book, with the details fresh in my mind, to be immensely displeased. I have read a number of excellent comments that go into detail of the faults of the movie, so I plan to keep this brief for those wanting a shorter critique.

    At least half of the characters were misrepresented. I believe the only two relatively-accurate main characters were Jos Sedley and Rawdon Crawley. Becky was completely dismantled into something with scarcely a semblance of what she is portrayed as in the book. The character Dobbin was undefined; George Osborne was snobbish instead of cocky; his rigid father suddenly became sympathetic (way too early and much too far); not to mention troves of other discrepancies. I understand the goal may have been to come up with a more abridged version, but there were changes made that had nothing to do with shortening the screenplay. Besides, there were a number of musical pieces that could have been cut in order to use the time more beneficially by preserving some of the integrity of the film.

    Thackeray would have been appalled at this hack job.

    Were it not for my love for time period films, and the possibility of enjoying this movie as something very separate from the book, I would not care to see it again. At least the filming was impressive, though that hardly makes up for the rest. The theatrical trailer is the best part of the movie.
  • I was very disappointed with this adaptation of Thackeray's masterpiece. When this movie first came out I was very excited to see it and read the book in preparation. Now I wish I had just left it at the novel. Mira Nair's vision of Becky Sharp and the hypocrisy of Regency Britain is so far off the mark, she should be ashamed of herself for even using the title 'Vanity Fair.' All of Becky's backstabbing guiles have been down-graded to a form of pluckiness that completely fails to hit any mark of truth or irony... the two pillars of the original work. It saddens me to know that a generation of young people will watch this film and assume that Nair's vision of the story is a correct one. It also upsets me that several of the most entertaining scenes in the novel were altered or completely left out for the sake of forcing us to endure Reese Witherspoon's mediocre lip syncing in at least three separate musical numbers. Sure, in the novel, Becky could sing... but she was also a heartless sociopath who would do anything to get ahead. Out of the two personality traits, I believe Thackeray would rather us know the latter instead of the former. 'Vanity Fair,' the novel, is a sharp and often hilarious social commentary. 'Vanity Fair,' the 2004 movie, is a dull and often intellectually insulting piece of weepie dreck. Trust me, folks, spend your money on the book, or at least check out the far superior BBC version, which is twice as long but never quite as plodding as this mock-up of an adaptation.
  • I had the somewhat unfortunate job of accompanying two teenage girls to my viewing of Vanity Fair. As any cinema attendee will know, there is nothing more irritating then two talkative teens, with the attention span of goldfish, chatting throughout the entire film. All their interest was well gone by the time Gabriel Byrne strutted onto the screen, and although it pains me to admit it, my interest had slowly subsided with theirs.

    Although beautiful shots, skillful performances and magnificently designed sets came bountiful, there was still one vast absence that was so dearly missed. This was the charm, the charisma and the fascination that connects the audience with the characters. The scenes didn't fuse well and felt shabbily thrown together. Acknowledged events came as surprises and characters lost their appeal and distinctiveness. Becky Sharp, played by Reese Witherspoon, became aggravating and tedious, and any sympathy, understanding or patience for that matter, was lost to a plot so drawn and witless, it made 'Charlie's angels' seem thought provoking.

    The charm and the magic of the William Makepeace Thackeray novel were forgotten in this drawn and soulless remake of a classic. Worth the watch for the costumes and set alone, but expect nothing more.
  • kealbertson21 October 2004
    Elegant costumes, beautiful scenery, and piano playing in excess all add to the sights and sounds of Mira Nair's film 'Vanity Fair.' Her 2004 version is one of over ten tries to put William Makepeace Thackeray's novel onto the big screen. Most attempts failed miserably, lacking the magic of today's movies and failing to grasp the themes of the novel. Nair's version, with its visual and audible pleasures, has the potential to become one of the few successful attempts. With humble beginnings as a poor child with a starving artist as her father, Becky (Reese Witherspoon) was determined to overcome her circumstance. She managed to work her way into a governess position in a down-on-his-luck aristocrat. New opportunities arise, and she hastily abandons her post to become the companion to a wealthy woman known only as Miss Crawley (Eileen Atkins). Much to Miss Crawley's displeasure, Becky wastes no time in her quest to climb the social ladder and marries into the family. Becky's new husband, Crawley's nephew, is soon sent off to war. Returning after the battle of Waterloo, their marriage is rocky due to his gambling debts and her never-ending quest to raise her social status. Meeting a man who collected her late father's art, she uses his money and his influence to continue her rise in the social hierarchy, causing more distress to their marriage. Nair attempted to bring something new to the film, using her fantastic creative talents in the costuming and scenery. Her musical choices weren't overwhelming and accented the film rather than hiding behind its beautiful visual aspects. She tried to cover the expanse of the novel, but ending up making a summary of the story and leaving the characters bland and undeveloped. Nair intentionally portrays Becky as a victim of the social system, showing her as merely taking advantage of circumstantial events. This contradicts harshly with Thackeray's Becky, who is manipulative and cunning, turning circumstantial events into anything that will benefit her rise up the social ladder. This movie is beautifully made and had the potential to become something great, but Nair's overly eager attempt leaves it as nothing more than another mediocre film. Had she paid as much attention to the plot and the characters as she did to the audio and visual aspects, this would definitely be the best film of the year. But she didn't, so don't waste your seven dollars to see it in the theater. Wait for the video, or better yet, wait for that one Friday night when you are home alone and it comes on cable.
  • 'Vanity Fair' is the perfect title for this story, showing us a world of cold characters with impersonal motives; a world where marriage is just another move in a chess game where the opponent is poverty and, perhaps more importantly, unpopularity. At the center of this movie is Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), a beautiful blonde from a terribly poor family (her father was a talented but poor artist). We meet her first when she is a young girl, and we see that she is already stubborn and manipulative, when she demands ten guineas for a portrait of her mother that is being sold to a wealthy aristocrat (Gabriel Byrne) for four. He agrees, probably not because he thinks it's worth it, but because he admires the fire and spirit in the young girl. He'll come into play later.

    We see her next after completing finishing school and being sent off to be a governess for Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins), a scruffy old man who's just barely getting by, with a dusty mansion and rude servants. She leaves for Pitt with her friend Amelia (Romola Garai), who is engaged to an officer George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Amelia's engagement does not stop her from talking to Becky about the benefits of marrying a wealthy man, and it is here that we first see the mindset of most of the women in the film. Since they don't have many promising career prospects (those were for the men) they want to seduce a rich man to gain wealth, and popularity, and happiness too, I guess.

    And Becky is great at playing the game. When she stays with Amelia's family in London before going to the Crawleys, she meets Amelia's awkward (and heavy) brother (Tony Maudsley), a wealthy man from India, and starts a seduction that is in a way kind of obvious, but she knows that the insecure Joseph couldn't possibly see through it. And he doesn't, he wants to marry her, and she wants that, but it's George who talks him out of it.

    So, Becky is finished with her detour and moves to the Crawley's, where she teaches his kids perfect French and even cleans up the mansion when his wealthy sister Matilde (Eileen Atkins) arrives. Matilde is an undeniable snob who claims to have a romantic heart, but with mean put-downs ready for everyone in the house. She takes a liking to Becky for her own cleverness and invites her to live with her and her nephew Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy) in London. Becky accepts, of course, it's another step up.

    So, she is back in London and reunites with Amelia, George, and George's soldier friend William Dobbin (Rhys Ifans). She also recognizes Matilde's neighbor, Lord Steyne, the man who bought her mother's portrait all those years ago. She's back in the game, but she falls prey to her heart and elopes with Rawdon, angering Matilde enough to cut Rawdon out of her will (she loves romantic stories, she says, but not in real life!).

    Becky hasn't been completely consumed by her love, though. She still has that cunning agenda of her own, which includes getting pregnant in hopes of gaining sympathy from Matilde, and attending all the major parties, shows and banquets in London despite her lower class.

    But Rawdon is a gambler and their wealth and public image starts to drop significantly. This is when we see the extent of Becky's agenda, when she accepts Steyne as her mentor, despite his A) being a horrible man and B) clearly wanting Becky for his bedroom, not his student. But Steyne is seductive in his own right, and buys Becky the most expensive and beautiful jewelry, shows her to great parties and even casts her as the lead in a dance show he directed. Their relationship is one of the most intriguing points of the film, kind of similar to that of Fast Eddie Felson and Bert Gordon, and Laura Hunt and Waldo Lydecker.

    Despite most of its characters being cunning and sinister, 'Vanity Fair' is a distinctly moral movie. Pitt Crawley Jr. (Douglas Hodge) is awkward and kind of dull, but his honesty and kindness gives him a stable, happy life, and Joseph's own earnestness pays off for him in the end. But the most important is the story of William Dobbin's undying love for Amelia, and how he's so gentlemanly about it. He doesn't urge her into adultery, and when she mistakes a piano he's bought for her for a present from George he doesn't correct her. I won't say how this story ends, but it'll most likely pull a tear from the girls in the audience. Ifans' is a fantastic, heartbreaking performance, the best of the movie.

    Mira Nair's direction is awesome as well, what other director could make a passable (even good) glittery, belly-dancing scene in a Victorian drama. The Oscar for costume design will most certainly go to this, and its set design makes the best competition to 'The Terminal' so far this year.

    As for acting Oscars, well, the way the movie switches from story to story doesn't quite let us get to know most of the characters, but some great performances can still be found here. Particularly Rhys Ifans, whose performance is so quiet and strong, and Eileen Atkins, who is perfect and hilarious, a true scene-stealer of her performance (and maybe even Byrne, too).

    And then there's Witherspoon, in one of her best performances as Becky Sharp, the girl who, after learning her lesson by the end, is so stubborn that she's at it again, 7.5/10.
  • 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 behavior to Amelia as he is in the novel. Dobbin is far too outspoken and powerful a figure whereas with Thackeray he is 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 form 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 old-fashioned 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 plot lines 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 allotted 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 most 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.
  • Vanity Fair is a beautiful mess. It combines the beauty of elegant costumes, sets and people with the disaster that is Mira Nair's adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery's novel. Not only is the adaptation bad but also so is what Nair has done with it. If you read the book, the movie will break your heart. It has completely ripped to shreds the pages of the classic story.

    If you haven't read the book and intend to waste your money on the film, I would recommend that first you read a couple of plot summaries of the novel. Otherwise, you may be very lost through no fault of your own but because there is no defining plot in the film. There are no central conflicts presented and it's not until about two thirds of the way through that you have at least an idea of what is trying to be done here. Even then, it is unclear. Reese Witherspoon plays Becky Sharp, a social climber. Vanity Fair is supposed to be her story but instead, it is crowded by a confusing and unnecessary cast of supporting characters. I suppose Vanity Fair is a story about love but also about how the social class system can create a barrier between people. If this was the intended idea the supporting cast would be needed but Vanity Fair is supposed to be about Becky Sharp and the movie is far too much of an ensemble piece for that to be the case.

    Mira Nair's direction is too present. She throws in too much of herself with the scenes about India and actually in India. Where the hell is the point? There just seem to be times when Nair thought it was okay to throw in another shot of an elephant's ass or belly dancers or India food.

    Speaking of unwanted, Reese's second child was not credited in the closing credits but is in every scene Reese is. Witherspoon and the crew seemed to think they could hide the fact that she was pregnant by putting her in big clothes but that didn't work. She still looks pregnant and it ruins the effect the clothes should have had. It also puts the movie out of sequence. In one scene Reese is very large and in the next you can only see her belly if you look for it.

    Vanity Fair could have been brilliant. The material is there, Reese bring to the table the range that we have come to expect from her and a performance that could have taken her places if it had been used better. But the fact remains that there are too many moments where ends just don't meet and the audience is confused to the point where the film can't rely on its pretty scenery to distract from its larger flaws. *1/2 out of *****
  • Vanity Fair is a beautiful film, with gorgeous scenery and amazing costumes. However, it takes a great deal of concentration to figure out exactly what is going on.

    Becky Sharp is the daughter of an artist and a chorus girl, far from respectable parents. When she finishes school, she does all she can to try to pull herself up in society, using her wit, intelligence, and sexuality. She ruthlessly climbs the social class ladder, but might have hit a small bump when she let herself fall in love.

    The movie, while it has good intentions, fails to provide a smooth running plot. Instead, it it simply a viewing of the ways of Becky, played perfectly by Reese Witherspoon. Reese shines in the role, bringing humanity to the character, and makes you like Becky, despite her often malicious ways. However, not even she can make the plot clear in the first viewing. It took me a second time to love this movie.

    The exotic feel of the Indian scenes is the best part, especially when Becky performs an Indian dance for the king. Its a beautiful scene. Also, the affection between Becky and Rawdon (a great James Purefoy) is endearing. A great movie, if you have the patience to figure it out.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I will freely admit that this is not my type of movie. In college I only reluctantly studied English Literature, and I worked hard to remember none of it. However, I am a fan of Reese Witherspoon, I have enjoyed the roles she created in all her movies, and she is the main reason I spend almost 2 and one half hours viewing "Vanity Fair." The movie is based on the Becky Sharp character in the mid 19th century novel, and is set in the first 30 years or so of the 19th century. There in fact was a 1935 movie, "Becky Sharp" which is based on the same book.

    Becky Sharp (Witherspoon) was a pretty and bright young girl born to a poor artist. At perhaps 8 or so was sent to a school for girls and received a fine education, leaving when she was old enough. This is a story of her early life, how she used her beauty and smarts of navigate upwards into society, places one normally attained only by birth. It deals with money, politics, love, and war.

    Gabriel Byrne is good as The Marquess of Steyne who purchases a painting from her dad when Becky was very young, and their paths crossed again years later when Becky and her husband were destitute. Romola Garai is good as Amelia Sedley, Becky's friend from school. Rhys Ifans, who was so funny as Hugh Grant's flat mate in "Notting Hill" plays William Dobbin, a serious role where he longs all his life for Amelia but isn't able to profess his feelings in a direct way. "I will take the assignment in India unless you tell me not to go." Very beautifully filmed, and with good sound. A nice movie for those who enjoy English period movies.
  • Let me first specify that I am, one that would agree that novels are generally better than the movie that might be adapted from them. I am appauld at the reaction to this beautiful film. I am a proud owner of this movie, for the fact it has one heck of a serious plot, and shows the character of BEcky sharp in a light that lets you judge for yourself, whether this "social climber", should be put in her place, or let loose to climb to high society. I don't think any novel can be completely taken to screen with the same richness as its source. Now with that out of the way, lets get on too the film. It stares the very talented Reese Witherspoon who adopts a perfect English accent, and can boost about learning belly dancing and other such dances for the film. The novel if you will call it that, by Willam Thackery Mackapiece, was actually newspaper article that he collected and put to a novel. So knowing that I am proud to say, that this screen adaptation by Mira Nair really hits the mark.

    If I wanted to see a book exactly the same on film, I would not have gone to see a film that was publicized, "as a different take on classic material." The book I was forced to read in the 11th grade, and I must say trying to capture 800+ pages on film with all the little subplots would have been tedious and even boring. This adaptation uses the character of BEcky Sharp to show how one may climb the social ladder, while still maintaining who she always is. The story that unfolds is about how people will change in life, sometimes for the good and some for the bad, but it is inevitable. I want to go on about how I rarely watch a movie more than once, but this movie I not only own, but try to watch at least twice a week, cause there is always a new layer to the film that I didn't notice last time. And to the final questions no, I don't know anybody in the production or the cast. Though if Mira Nair is casting one of her films, I would be happy to be a part of her work, after seeing this fantastic film!!!!!
  • You can't blame anyone from India for wanting revenge on those imperialist British bastards, but I don't see why you should take it out on Thackeray. He was just an author; what did he do to deserve such treatment? It's been a pretty long while since I read Vanity Fair, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't about India. If you want to make a movie about India from a book by a British author, Kipling would be a good idea. Or if you want to make a film about India, by all means, make a film about India. I'd like to see more films about India. How about Salman Rushdie? But this is just ripping off Thackeray's novel for revisionist self-indulgence. If you're not going to even remotely adhere to the novel, don't call it Vanity Fair; make your own movie and call it something else.

    One last thing, Becky Sharp has been utterly defanged for some reason. It's just not Vanity Fair if Becky Sharp isn't something of a conniving, amoral little hussy. That's what makes her interesting and entertaining. Yes, this Becky Sharp is much nicer, but she's also rather dull.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The day after I finished reading the novel, I rented the latest film of Vanity Fair (2004), starring Reese Witherspoon, Rhys Ifans, Gabriel Brynes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Romola Garai. I predicted that Hollywood (again) would ruin a perfectly good English period story into a cheap, shallow, Holly-woody adaptation. I was more or less correct. Firstly, the use of synthetic materials (a big NO-NO in any historical film), modern make up, and modern hairstyles (all minor, trivial details) irritated me, but I am willing to forgive Hollywood as they could never live up to BBC's incredibly high standards in period costume drama.

    The casting was surprisingly good – Witherspoon was a good choice for Becky as she is well-known, and "pretty" but no great beauty (just as Becky from the novel). Her accent was very good – no trace of an American accent and her acting convincing. However, more importantly, the choice of Gabriel Brynes as my lord, the Marquis of Steyne was very interesting. I imagined Lord Steyne to reek of filthy rich aristocratic arrogance, be bald, lecherous, and ugly, whereas Brynes brought a peculiar sense of elegance, wisdom and was strangely seductive. Or maybe this is because I quite like Gabriel Brynes (he's on my list of "liked actors"), although admittedly, I was shocked at how old he looked in the film. Even though Lord Steyne was completely different in the film, this was one interpretation that I quite liked.

    The interpretation of Becky Sharp, however, wasn't "harsh" enough. From the book, I thought she is fond of her husband, but not really passionate; in the movie, Becky seems to actually be in love with him. The film makes the audience sympathetic towards Becky; in the book, the reader thinks that Becky made her own downfall. The movie doesn't show the utmost disdain she has towards her child, or how she has absolute control over her husband. It doesn't show how she uses Rawdon as a mere pawn in her game or how she steps on everybody for her own gain.

    More than anything, the movie's ending was dreadful. Until the last scene, I was happy - although it has historically inaccurate hairdos, dresses and was generally lacking in character development, Vanity Fair '04 was doing well in packing a lengthy novel into under 3 hours. The last few scenes wrecked this illusion. I should have known that Hollywood could never deliver a story like Vanity Fair decently.

    The whole story of Vanity Fair is about the rise and FALL of Becky. The film presented the RISE well, but it never showed the DOWNFALL. Ergo, the point of the story and Thackeray's message is not at all shown, including that legendary line:

    "VANITAS VANITATUM! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has the desire? Or, having it, is satisfied?"
  • In many ways, director Mira Nair is a daring, imaginative choice to helm this latest film adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's classic novel of social mores in early 19th century England. But the end result of her vision is on the whole, rather disappointing. What could have been an energetic distillation of the book's themes turns into a lengthy episodic movie suffering from poor pacing and softened characters. It is a feast for the eyes though, as it appears Nair is intent on bringing her native India into the film as much as possible from the brightly colored period costumes to the contemporary-looking exotic dance at the Marquess of Steyne's party (with very anachronistic Rai music in the background) to the happy ending atop an elephant in Jodhpur. All these references remain true to the Calcutta-born author's story, and actually they feed into the English imagination of what India meant to them at the time. At the same time, the images are too overwhelming to make the basic story of Becky Sharp resonate as it should. Her evolution is the heart of the story, as she moves from finishing school outsider to resourceful governess to brave captain's wife to fallen woman in a casino. It's a long, rocky journey, almost too long for a 137-minute movie to bear as it turns out. Nair, however, also has a good handle on the comic banter among the characters, and it certainly helps that she has assembled a "Who's Who" of British stage and film in all the roles except the primary one.

    As Becky, Reese Witherspoon gives it a valiant effort and perfects her British accent to Gwyneth Paltrow's standards, but she seems to be channeling a hybrid of her Elle Woods ("Legally Blonde") and her Tracy Flick (in Alexander Payne's "Election") by way of Kate Winslet in "Sense and Sensibility". When facing down her opponents in her climb upward, especially in the early scenes, the performance seems right. But when her character takes on Scarlett O'Hara dimensions in wartime suffering and acts of betrayal, she seems young and overwhelmed, and her reactions come across as too modern to be true to the character's evolution as intended. This anomaly results in a Becky Sharp who is not so much an ambitious social climber but a plucky heroine for the underclasses, a textbook example of a Tony Robbins motivational seminar. This transformation may seem endearing to those looking for nicely wrapped tales of triumph against all odds, but it doesn't lend credibility to the more pointed satire and harsher criticisms that Thackeray had in mind when he wrote the book. For example, Becky's gambler husband, Rawdon Crawley, is really more of a ne'er-do-well whose departure in the story should be viewed somewhat as relief, but as played by James Purefoy, he is a romantic figure who is guilt-ridden over his failure to provide for his family. The change could have been acceptable were it not for the fact that his character is discarded in an almost matter-of-fact way. The same sketchy treatment is given to Becky's only friend, Amelia Sedley, played by Romola Garai, who is set up as a contrast to Becky and comes across as a wet rag for much of the story. But the film transforms her into a brave widow whose romantic resolution at the end strains credibility. Somehow Purefoy and Garai acquit themselves admirably regardless.

    There are many fine performances in the smaller roles. Worth mentioning are Jim Broadbent as roguish George Osborne's unforgiving father, Bob Hoskins as the clownishly pitiable Sir Pitt; Gabriel Byrne as the territorially devious Marquess of Steyne, and Geraldine McEwan's helium-voiced Lady Southdown. Best of all is the mordantly witty Eileen Atkins, who seems to understand the tone of Thackeray's story better than anyone else, and lends a dotty authority to the role of Aunt Mathilde, serving as the primary catalyst of Becky's social escalation much to her later regret. Great acting aside, the film's length does have a wearing effect since the climax does not bear the emotional weight of everything that has gone before it, and unfortunately the plot strands get wrapped up much too quickly at the end to make the story truly resonate. That's a shame since there is so much creative energy obviously at work here.
  • onewhoseesme18 December 2009
    I didn't read the book, though it was one of the Director's favorites from her high school days. Which means her departures weren't ignorant but intentional. Many of the movies in my small library are some of the best of film literature that we have, so there is a great appreciation for it on my part. But I don't think it impossible to make a good movie that differs from the book. Apparently this one, like so many - does.

    The movie is sumptuous, and beautifully so. It is, as I'm sure others have said, a feast for the eyes. I found it to be most excellent in every way, including both Reese Witherspoon as the lead, and the events coming full circle to a happy ending. If you enjoy the best of Merchant-Ivory, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, or any other well made period piece - I can't imagine you not enjoying this. It is well worth the watching.

    Since the entire production crew was a gaggle of women (I say that lovingly), there are visible elements of underlying political and social commentary favoring the feminine. Which is simply an observation, diverging from Mira Nair's small denial to the contrary. It was well written, well acted, well shot and well directed. I've enjoyed it immensely, several times, and will several more . . .
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I caught up with this film on DVD recently and since I have always been interested in Mira Nair's work ever since her "Salam Bombay", I felt very disappointed in her work in this one.

    What turned the film suddenly from a tolerable experience into a bizzar one was when Becky surprises us with what is supposed to be an Indian dance is accompanied with a quite recent

    popular Egyptian song "Al-Salam Alykom" by singer Hakim. Which raises the question ,what kind of research went into such big budget film that can fall into this trap, particularly in a period film. I guess Ms.Mira is fond of "Salam" word in the song . Even the musical instruments used for the song could never belong to the period of the film.Counting on that most western audiences will not notice is a rather silly excuse. On the other hand I assure Ms.Nair that Arabic speaking audiences would burst into laughter once this scene comes on.
  • I've always meant to read Vanity Fair, so when I saw the poster advertising the film, I decided to go ahead and read it, before watching the film. When I eventually finished the book and watched the DVD, I LOVED it! A lot was left out, but it had to be because otherwise the film would be an overly long, sprawling mess. The film was colourful and vibrant, and so what if Becky wasn't portrayed exactly as she was in the novel? I thought that this adaptation was wonderful, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Some people might complain that it hasn't stayed true to the novel, but it's still a very enjoyable film in its own right.

    If you liked Moulin Rouge try this!
  • mvghm18 January 2005
    Thackery must be rolling over if he saw this film from wherever he is! Clearly all the money went into the costumes and other frivolities. The script was choppy in turn, makes the acting choppy as well. Did the director even read the book? The A&E version is not to be missed, especially with the beautiful Natasha Little and a very handsome Nathaniel Parker, which was superbly done and truest to Thackery! Very detailed and the circus type music to accompany the ring master who is none other than Miss Becky Sharp! One just cannot understand how casting agents and directors could possibly use an American actress in a British historical piece, especially when she hasn't nailed the accent, which in Ms. Reeses case, was not a believable one! We had to walk out of the theater after a half an hour. What was this director thinking!? What I also found odd, was that Natasha Little who clearly should have been in the lead, had a minor role, along with some other extremely talented actresses,one such as the lovely Meg Wynn Owen who was fabulous in Upstairs Downstairs. The director ought to stick to making films of India and not British period pieces, or maybe next time, at least read the book before taking on a film.
  • Thackeray purists beware! This version of Vanity Fair deviates from the novel.It is a watchable attempt at creating a sympathetic (slightly feminist) Becky Shark. Reese Witherspoon gains our sympathy for this Victorian 'social climber', but sadly smoothens out Becky's hard edges. Still, the film is populated with interesting characters, all of which makes it an enjoyable watch, although literarily inaccurate. Gabriel Byrne has a field day in a commanding performance. Mira Nair goes overboard in trying to stress the 'India' connection in Thackeray's novel. This results in some awkward scenes of Witherspoon dancing in oriental regalia. Watchable all the same.

    Overall 7/10
  • Warning: Spoilers

    I have only one question to ask the director, as well as the screenplay writers of this movie - have we been reading the same book? This movie has almost nothing to do with the W. Thackeray's novel. Well, the names of the main characters in the movie are the same as of those in the book and some of the events in the movie are slightly reminiscent of those in the book...but the rest...most of the events described in the book are either altered or left out. Some of the book's main characters never appear in the movie...however, some events and characters that are in the movie were never actually in the book. What gives? Did the screenplay writers think than Thackeray could (and should) be improved on? A delusion that leads to disastrous (for the movie) results - all the book's wit, all its irony and its delightful, almost delicious sarcasm are gone. The brilliant dialogues (like Rebecca's and George's conversation by the piano, when he decides to remind her of "her place" - one of my favorite paragraphs in the book) are replaced by weak, unconvincing, trivial, and, worst of all, boring lines. And the scene in which Rawdon leaves Rebecca...that scene was never in "Vanity Fair" (the novel). It was in "Gone with the Wind" (the movie). Remember the final scene? Scarlett standing at the top of the stairs crying out to Rhett "Please, Rhett, in my way, I loved you." And he replies "Then that is your misfortune". When Rebecca and Rawdon exchange the very same words with Rebecca standing at the top of the stairs, it was pretty insulting. How dumb do the people responsible for this "movie" think the audience are? So, okay, they assume that most people never read the book and therefore don't know any better, but did they really think that no one remembered the final scene in "Gone with the Wind"??? The "Gone with the Wind" scene ending up in "Vanity Fair" is actually what puzzles me most about this movie ("Vanity Fair", that is)...I just don't understand how it happened...did they really think no one would notice? Unless, of course, it was done intentionally, to liken Rebecca Sharp to Scarlett O'Hara, which I highly doubt. Looks more like a plain ol' rip-off to me.

    And why this urge to make Rebecca Sharp likable, when in the book she was actually quite loathsome (especially the way she treated her son)? She's practically a con woman and a sociopath, yet in the movie she was portrayed as this witty cheerful young girl, who is simply down on her luck and is simply yearning for acceptance and better life? Reese Witherspoon gives a great performance nevertheless, but this part seems like such a waste of her talent, and she has enough talent to pull off the real Rebecca, the original Thackeray's Rebecca, the shrewd, scheming, conniving, unscrupulous, cynical, and, most importantly, heartless Rebecca...the way she was portrayed in the novel. And the movie's young, good-looking, elegant, galant, sophisticated Rawdon is also a far cry from the novel's "honest Rawdon" - chubby middle-aged inarticulate nearly illetirate and quite simple-minded man, who was quite unscrupulous himself almost all throughout the novel, except in the end.

    But I guess all the differences between the movie and the novel would only bother those who read the book. If you have never read it, chances are you will enjoy the movie - the storyline is still compelling (it would require an extraordinary talent to manage to make an utter crap out of Thackeray's masterpiece), it offers some stellar performances, sets and costumes do not disappoint either. Me, I give this movie to stars - one for cinematography (most of the time the screen was quite lovely to look at) and another one for Reese Witherspoon's performance -she's great.
  • Can a movie ever benefit from a lack of marketing? I wondered this to myself as I sat in the theatre about 40 minutes before Vanity Fair was about to be viewed. As the audience began trickling in, I could not help but notice the age of the paying parties. On average, Joe-Q public consisted on this day of mostly teenage girls anywhere from 13-16 years of age.

    I knew what to expect in Vanity Fair before the curtains rolled up, so it fueled my query as I wondered if those hard earned teenage dollars knew that they were about to sit through a period piece set in London in early 19th century. I think not. The lack of television overexposure and the fact that corset-wearing aristocrats were not on a Burger King soda cup had me believe that the audience was there (primarily) due to Reese Witherspoon's name which appeared above the title.

    I did not question any of the patrons at the conclusion of the screening. I did not hide in the lobby to hear their comments. But based on my observations during the dimmed light phase, I think that the movie was generally not what was expected. I base this solely on the number of times these teenage girls left the theatre, either in singles or in hunting packs, for periods of time that was anywhere from a moment to what might end up being a couple of chapters on a DVD. They seemed restless no matter which clique they belonged. They did not get the few but poignant humorous scenes. And when the credits began to show at the films conclusion, they remained in their seats speechless like a child who opens a big box at Christmas only to find a neatly folded sweater sitting at its bottom.

    Can't blame them really. Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), Vanity Fair was something of a miss. Starring Witherspoon as Becky Sharp, a daughter of a starving artist who seems to fight and claw her way up the social ladder by either being in the right place at the right time or aligning herself with the appropriate aristocrats to push her one step closer to the perch of societal acceptance, Vanity Fair tries to hard for too long to be something that it is not.

    Possibly wanting to be a softer Dangerous Liaisons, we watch as Becky leaves school, becomes a firecracker of knowledge, marries a gambler, gets propositioned by the Marquess and eventually gives birth to a child that she gives up without argue. Throw in many subplots consisting of overbearing fathers, a love not realized and major characters getting killed in wars throughout Europe, and it might seem like too much for just one film. Nope.

    Clocking in at 137 minutes, Nair takes her time in having the movie methodically move like molasses going the wrong way on an on-ramp. We jump ahead in time at random (once going 12 years later) in a tired attempt at throwing everything to a wall and hoping that more than a few things stick.

    Witherspoon will survive. Her comedic wit and attraction to the younger audiences will ensure another hit before long. Whom I feel for is the always-misused Gabriel Byrne. In 1990's Miller's Crossing and again in 1995's The Usual Suspects, Byrne showed us what he could do with good material. As the Marquess of Steyne, he rises above the mediocre role and shines as the helpful but with motive art enthusiast that takes a liking to the young Sharp. His screen time, however, is so long in coming and so surrounded by uninteresting characters and dialogue, that even he can't lift the film an extra half star.

    So now that it is over, I don't know who was better off – the teenagers who got something that they could probably see in school in a few months or someone like me who went in hoping to see Reese rise to the top of her craft in a career move that seemed timed just right. I think the teens got off easy.
  • Wow. I only paid $3 to rent this movie, and I still want my money back. When I saw the preview for Vanity Fair, I thought it seemed like a good movie. I love period pieces, and the costumes and cast looked great. However, someone should have warned me that I wouldn't be able to follow the plot through the entire, slow-moving, 2 hour and 15 minute long film.

    By reading reviews of Vanity Fair, I've gathered that the book was about a sassy and conniving young woman trying to get up the social ladder by any means possible. Director Mira Nair must have missed that part. To me (someone who hasn't read the book, nor has any idea of the plot of the book), the movie seemed to be about a peppy, young girl who was in love, but had a hard time being accepted in the "higher" crowds; however, that didn't stop her from trying her hardest and never giving up. When I read the comments on here I stopped and thought "WOAH WOAH, Rebecca was supposed to be conniving?!?!"

    During the first hour or so, the movie was pretty good, but after that, everything slowed down tremendously. As more and more subplots and characters were thrown in, I got lost at least twice. There was no passing of time, it seemed. No one really aged, either. And what does India hafta do with anything? It seemed to show up a lot, but it seemed to me to just be something to make viewer's go "Ooh, that's exotic!"

    The acting wasn't all that horrible. Witherspoon gave it a good try, but Nair's directions seemed to throw her totally off character. I have to admit, she did look very pretty, although I'm not sure how the orangey-blondey hair suits her. As for everyone else...Byrne and Purefoy were good, Byrne probably being the best of the whole cast. He played his character very nicely, and Purefoy also did well, as I could feel his emotions in many of his scenes. Everyone else was well casted, but all were so involved in complicated subplots, that I couldn't keep any straight.

    Like I said before, the costumes and sets were very well done, and they pretty much earned the 2 stars. The rest of the movie was slow and dull, but at the same time, too choppy and complicated. My recommendation: if you insist on seeing it, rent it cheap somewhere, or wait till you can see it on HBO.
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