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Vanity Fair

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‘I am poor and put upon,’ concedes Becky Sharp during the first episode of Vanity Fair, but it rapidly becomes clear that she intends to change this situation, scrambling up the social ladder by exploiting her guile, good looks and the gullibility of doting males. In the light of her selfish, single-minded resolve to achieve success, Sharp may be viewed as an optimistic dreamer, pragmatic schemer, proto-feminist or a coquettish combination of all three.

Certainly, this lavish adaptation emphasises the anti-heroine’s kinship with the beguiling Scarlett O’Hara, and although Margaret Mitchell strenuously denied any connection, the plot-line and characters involved in her epic Gone With the Wind frequently resemble those conjured up in William Makepeace Thackeray’s first novel, published in 1847.

Responding to claims that the author’s characters had been modernised, producer Suzanne Harrison stated that this had been a deliberate decision. The criticism, however, seems to miss the point. Screenwriter Andrew Davies is not looking to replace the original book. As ever, he simply takes the spirit, main plot and characters of a novel in order that a long-standing classic can be introduced to, and enjoyed by, a fresh, contemporary audience.

By 1998, he had achieved considerable success with other period pieces including Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders and Emma. Vanity Fair continued their tradition of high production values, if anything upping the ante with filming across England, Wales, Belgium and the Rhone Valley, 2000 extras and 75 speaking parts, sumptuous sets, impeccable, Bafta-nominated costumes and director Marc Munden instilling a cinematic feel to the drama, most noticeably in the impressive and brutal battle scenes.

Davies was delighted with the result, citing Vanity Fair as one of his favourite period adaptations, due largely to Munden’s success in making the adventures of Miss Sharp sparkle so enjoyably.

production details
UK | BBC One | 6×50 minutes | Broadcast 1 November – 6 December 1998

Writer: Andrew Davies
Novel: Willim Makepeace Thackeray
Producer: Gillian McNeill
Director: Marc Munden

cast
NATASHA LITTLE as Becky Sharp
FRANCES GREY as Amelia Sedley
PAT KEEN as Miss Pinkerton
CHARLOTTE WEST-ORAM as Jemima Pinkerton
MICHELE DOTRICE as Mrs Sedley
DAVID ROSS as Mr Sedley
JEREMY SWIFT as Jos Sedley
NATHANIAL PARKER as Rawdon Crawley
MIRIAM MARGOYLES as Miss Crawley
DAVID BRADLEY as Sir Pitt Crawley
PHILIP GLENISTER as William Dobbin
TOM WARD as George Osborne

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