Saturday, 28 November 2015

Vanity Fair (1998)


Famously subtitled 'A Novel Without A Hero', William Makepeace Thackery's Vanity Fair is a satirical and cynical commentary on both society and the human condition. A tale of ruthless, lusty ambition against a background of the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair follows one Becky Sharp, a scheming governess, who seduces her way to success, but doesn’t bargain on the hand fate plays. 

Adapted by the grand master himself Andrew Davies and directed by Marc Munden this 1998 BBC adaptation is the definitive take on the novel, perhaps because the pair so resolutely and fearlessly embrace the anti-heroine characteristics of Thackery's central character and have them beautifully and captivatingly played by Natasha Little. 



Whenever a discussion regarding sociopaths in literature rears its head, the chances are examples from crime fiction loom large and that Hannibal Lector is more often than not cited as a prime example. But the greatest example for me is Becky Sharp, whose constant scheming and ingenious displays of self serving resourcefulness Davies wisely depicts in such a manner that we cannot be anything other than deeply impressed, despite ourselves. In reality, no one would really like to meet a Becky Sharp but, in fiction, one cannot help but marvel at her low cunning and admire her unnerving ability to come out on top nine times out of ten. 



Fresh from playing the shit-stirring minx Rachel in This Life, Natasha Little was perfect casting for the role of the utterly amoral, ruthless and calculating young beauty. She is excellently supported by Nathaniel Parker, Frances Grey, Philip Glenister, Tom Ward and Jeremy Swift, as well as a host of period drama favourites such as Miriam Margolyes, Anton Lesser, David Bradley, Sylvestra Le Touzel and Eleanor Bron. 



Davies' script, combined with Munden's directorial style, produces the very best kind of adaptation of a literary great in that it says just as much about contemporary society as it does about the era it was originally written in. Broadcast in 1998 there's more than an air of that era's 'Cool Britannia' craze to the busy, bustling proceedings, whilst Thackery's commentary on a Britain on the brink of both bankruptcy and war remains just as resonant now in the post economic crash, ISIS threatened Western world  as it was in the early 19th century. And there's always the irony of one of the key characters being named George Osborne!


The acting is impeccable, the period design excellent and Murray Gold's brassy and chaotic score - part oompah, part funereal sarabande - is at once both irritating and authentic as it draws out the satire with a series of intrusive blasts.

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