Movie Review: Vanity Fair

Okay, so I finished Thackeray’s Vanity Fair today. It was delicious, although, even more so than with Middlemarch, having to read it so quickly wasn’t exactly a good thing. But I’m already looking eagerly towards the probably-happening-very-soon reread!

Now, I wasn’t going to watch the movie until I’d written my paper (i.e. sometime in April), but after reading the book I came to the conclusion that there’s just so much into it that the movie has to be vastly different.

Actually, it wasn’t. I found it surprisingly faithful to the book, though naturally it takes some liberties with characterisation and offers interpretations of things Thackeray only alludes to. My main qualm was that they were trying to make Becky (Reese Witherspoon) look nice personality-wise, and frankly, I don’t think she’s that at all. Other characters I liked – amazing Romola Garai as Amelia, Geraldine McEwan as Lady Southdown, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Bareacres… Just splendid. And Douglas Hodge was absolutely spot on as Mr Pitt Crawley! He had me in stitches, he did!

You will notice that list didn’t include any of the leading men in the movie. Well. That’s because one of the things that make this movie so attractive to me is the gods-damned uniforms. Uniforms everywhere! And the three leading men – Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Osborne, Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin, and James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley – know how to carry them. But they do more than look nice. Rhys Meyers does haughty like I’ve seen no one else do it. Ifans is so in love it broke my poor heart on several occasions. And Purefoy managed to make Rawdon so well rounded that I even began to like the character. Only thing I wish is that someone would teach Mr Purefoy to ride, as his skills in the noble sport made him look embarrassing rather than dashing.

There are some little details that bugged me. Some costumes didn’t exactly look Regency. A general off-ness in some scenes. But most of all, Lady Richmond’s ball. The movie places it on June 17th 1815. However, said ball was held on June 15th, just on the brink of Waterloo. (You can find this famous ball on Wikipedia, if you want to read contemporary descriptions or glance at the guest list.)

I can only recommend the movie. It’s slightly on the long side with 139 minutes, but it’s captivating and very pleasing to the eye. Hard to say how it works without having read the book, but I’d say it’s not hard to follow.

Although I do warmly recommend the book as well.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Director: Mira Nair

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rhys Ifans, James Purefoy, Gabriel Byrne

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