February 3, 2005 -- “Vanity Fair” is a sumptuous period piece with wonderful costumes and period sets. The story, based on the famous book by William Makepeace Thackeray, has more characters than a Russian novel. Reese Witherspoon plays a social climber described in the film as more of a mountaineer. Gabriel Byrne plays a dirty old man and Jim Broadbent is a frustrated old man, while Bob Hoskins is a dingy old man.
It has all the usual English costume drama crap about upper class people and the lower class people who want to climb the social ladder back in those long ago days when there actually was a British empire. It isn't quite as stuffy and rigid as the Merchant-Ivory movies, so it may not satisfy some Angliphiles. Good acting all around by a strong cast.
The story, set in the early 1800s, has Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon of “Legally Blonde”) determined to rise beyond her modest start in life. First, she becomes governess to the daughters of low-level nobleman Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins of “Felicia's Journey”). She quickly becomes the favorite of the household and catches the eye of the wealthy Miss Matilda Crawley (Eileen Atkins of “Cold Mountain”). She accepts a job with Miss Crawley in London. Becky makes the most of this opportunity by secretly marrying Miss Crawley's heir, Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy of “Resident Evil”). When Miss Crawley discovers the marriage, she has a hissy fit and throws Becky out of the house for marrying above her class. Becky is tough, though, and bounces back.
Becky gets ahead with the help of the Machiavellian Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne of “Assault on Precinct 13”), but there is a high price to pay for Steyne's help. Anglophile purists will no doubt complain about Becky's feminist tendencies, her perkiness, and the fast and loose way the film plays with that famously rigid British class structure of that period. You know what, a pox on the purists. They can always go watch “Remains of the Day.” I like the modern take on the story. Director Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) even manages to sneak a colorful Indian scene into the movie. All in all, it is not at all the bore I thought this movie was going to be. This film rates a B.
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