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Vanity Fair (BBC-2 1967, Susan Hampshire, Roy Marsden)

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Vanity Fair follows orphan Becky, as she is leaving boarding school with her best friend Amelia – she goes on to become a governess and through canny and manipulative means continues to advance herself up society’s ladder using people with a sometimes callous disregard if that best suits her, losing her friendship with Amelia, and finally falling from grace.

It is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars with a couple of episodes set in a town near the front line where the British soldiers and their women are staying. Pain and suffering of the wounded soldiers returning from battle is well played and probably accounts for the PG rating.

The production is shot on videotape and is in colour. In fact it was the very first BBC drama to be made in colour and was originally broadcast on BBC2 in 1967 although most people who saw it back then would have still been watching on black and white sets. Colours are very vivid and show off the sumptuous costumes and bright red of the soldiers’ uniforms to great effect.

Although shot primarily on tape there is an interesting contrast in episode 3 where a long ballroom scene is shot on location using film stock – same actors, same costumes, but it makes it look like an expensive feature film for the duration of that scene. That is not a criticism of the rest of the production since flat videotape invokes a far closer and immediate feel to proceedings that has its own special charm, but it does serve to show what a huge difference it can make.

There was a previous BBC version in 1957 whose cast included Petra Davies (as Ameilia) and Derek Blomfield (as Captain Dobbin).

production details
UK | BBC Two | 5×45 minutes | 1967
Script: William Makepeace Thackeray,

cast
Bryan Marshall as Captain Dobbin
Susan Hampshire as Becky Sharp
Roy Marsden as George Osborne
Barbara Leake as Mrs. Sedley
Dyson Lovell as Rawdon Crawley
John Moffatt as Jos Sedley
Howard Taylor as Horrocks
Barbara Couper as Miss Matilda Crawley

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