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Review: Vanity Fair (1998)

Directed by: Marc Mundon | 300 minutes | drama | Actors: Natasha Little, , Frances Gray, , , Tim Woodward, , , , , , Zoe Chester, Carol Ann Crawford, , , Janet Dale, Windsor Davies, , Michele Dotrice, Janine Duvitski, Stephen Frost, Pat Keen, , John Leeson, Anton Lesser, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Gerard Murphy, Casey O’Connor, Sara Powell, , Maurice Roëves , David Ross, Patsy Rowlands, , John Surman, , Paddy Ward, Zohren Weiss,

Becky Sharp (Natasha Little), the main character in “Vanity Fair”, is the prototype of a bad woman: she is cunning, seductive and only interested in her own interests. It is not without reason that British writer William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) chose the subtitle A Novel without a Hero for his book “Vanity Fair”. The characters in this story are all possessed with less pleasant traits, which make them all unsuitable for a possible hero role. Even the most lovable figure of all, the good-natured and ever-helpful Captain William Dobbin (Philip Glenister), is too much trifled with and too often compromises in favor of those who take advantage of him to pass as a hero.

The plot of “Vanity Fair” is as witty as it is captivating. British high society in the first half of the nineteenth century is constantly being targeted. A cunning intriguer like Becky Sharp has no trouble at all to rise up in these circles, where everything revolves around appearance and status.

The main drama in “Vanity Fair” takes place in the marriage of Becky and aristocrat Rawdon Crawley. Crawley adores his wife, and has long been deeply impressed by her ingenuity and the chameleon-like manner in which she moves in high society. But he discovers her true nature when they have a son together, with whom she acts downright loveless. The death knell for Rawdon’s love for Becky follows when he catches her with her patron Lord Steyne. After all, Becky had sworn to him that there was nothing more going on between her and Steyne than an innocent flirtation.

Incidentally, unrequited or only partially reciprocated love are a common thread in this series: Amelia Sedley’s blind adoration for the vain, self-centered George Osborne, William Dobbin’s silent worship of Amelia Sedley, Rawdon Crawley’s love for Becky Sharp, which later turns into hatred. In Vanity Fair, everyone ultimately gets what is due to them, and that is certainly not always what was hoped for.

The BBC has a reputation to uphold when it comes to the production of book adaptations and historical dramas. This costume drama is also of excellent quality. There is little to nothing to say about the acting, the script (which closely follows the story of Thackeray) and the atmosphere of this series. Anyone who dares to watch this series with a total length of 300 minutes in one sitting will probably not be bored for a moment during this apparently long session. May the BBC continue like this for years to come!

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