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Vanity Fair (2004)

I've not read William Makepeace Thackeray's novel so I don't know if this latest version of Vanity Fair (the tenth according to imdb) is true to the book.

It did remind me, in setting and subject matter, of the recent spate of Austen adaptations; though if Austen is perenially concerned with love, class and money then Thackeray seems to substitute ambition for romance. Love may be "vanity's conqueror" (to quote a character in an alternative ending on the DVD, and possibly the novel) but it's not the driver of this story.

Reese Witherspoon's Becky Sharp comes across at first as a well modulated Tracy Flick though by story's end grows into her own character. On the downside, I never forgot that Witherspoon was playing a role, though that may have been the point given Becky Sharp's machinations. But while that perception didn't get in the way of lighter pieces like Legally Blonde my disbelief... mainly in her accent... was never quite suspended in a movie that takes itself altogether more seriously.

I was wondering what purpose the parallel Amelia story served, though I'd never complain about seeing Romola Garai (also radiant in the recent Nicholas Nickleby) light up the screen. However all was made clear in the film's final scenes - Amelia serves as the key to Becky's salvation.

Still, the movie struck me as ultimately bloodless and unengrossing, with some exceptions like an inexplicable ten minute stretch when it turned into a musical, a true musical even where the plot was advanced first by song and then a dance number. (Perhaps it's not so strange given that Indian director Mira Nair must undoubtedly be familiar with Bollywood convention.) Strangely, some of the most overtly dramatic scenes were left on the cutting room floor, though not all work as well as they could, which might explain that.

Or maybe Nair was more interested in making a film where the passion and sumptuousness was in the production design and photography rather than the acting. Certainly some of the colour schemes were so intense that they threatened to overwhelm everything else.

Oh, Gabriel Byrne was pretty good and I thought Bob Hoskins gave a really good performance.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 7, 2005 7:41 PM.

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