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.
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.